At first glance, the high school teams racing their electric karts on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway might seem like part of just another routine science competition. But Michael Ursem sees something more ambitious at play in this hugely popular annual event. Events such as these, where teens apply their learned concepts of science and technology, are seeds for what Ursem hopes will become a full-fledged passion for STEM.
Ursem is managing director of the Indiana Manufacturing Competitiveness Center (IN-MaC), Purdue University’s initiative to advance the manufacturing ecosystem for the Hoosier State. Indiana continues to be a hotbed for the manufacturing industry, housing more than 8,500 related facilities and employing a fifth of the workforce. The problem, says Ursem, is that the rapidly evolving manufacturing industry has ushered in a new technological revolution — Industry 4.0 — without an attendant ecosystem that nurtures it.
Industry 4.0 integrates future-forward technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics and machine learning throughout an enterprise to make companies more efficient, adaptive and resilient. Unfortunately, there is a disconnect on multiple levels: a dearth of skilled talent for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow and slow adoption of new technologies by existing companies. IN-MaC, which is a collaboration between Purdue Engineering and Purdue Polytechnic, is working on a multi-pronged solution to the problem. The center’s approach targets three areas: technology transfer and adoption; education and workforce development; and research for future competitiveness.
The Education Angle
In addition to seeding STEM-driven events for students across the state, IN-MaC partners with schools, communities, higher education institutions and manufacturers to augment education and workforce development pathways by helping students and incumbent workers develop the technical skills and literacies industry demands. For example, IN-MaC partnered with Ivy Tech Community College to develop an associate’s degree program in 3D printing that transfers toward a 4-year Purdue degree, and with Vincennes University on an advanced manufacturing apprenticeship program.
Ursem is keen to emphasize that it’s not just college access that is the golden ideal to aim for. “We recognize that a lot of the population will not go to college or complete a degree. We strive to create opportunities for people from all walks of life and all circumstances to become introduced to technologies that will help get them a higher-paying job while supplying manufacturers with critical talent,” he says.
With this same goal in mind, IN-MaC has funded technology tools for Indianapolis-based RUCKUS, part of a national “Maker” movement toward entrepreneurship, technology and startup manufacturing. IN-MaC provides access to on-site, high-tech equipment and testing both in Indianapolis and at Purdue’s main campus in West Lafayette, Indiana.
“Our education and workforce development programs involve many other activities as well,” Ursem says. An example is MakerMinded, a program that connects students and schools to market-leading STEM and manufacturing learning experiences and teaches educators advanced manufacturing skills that they can adopt in their classrooms, learning and discovery labs.
Ursem is well aware that it takes more than access for communities to embrace technology and to move their way up to better-paying jobs. “We don’t try to pick winners or losers,” he says. “Our goal is to create more opportunities to introduce technologies, build competencies and help schools, communities and manufacturers develop capabilities to keep Indiana competitive.”
Purdue continues to be a hotbed for related research, Ursem points out, and 2019 will see the launch of a new digital manufacturing testbed — a center devoted to the latest in Industry 4.0. The proposed testbed will provide a facility for researchers to discover, validate and demonstrate next-generation smart manufacturing technologies, to showcase and disseminate new Industry 4.0 methods, and to lead in the development of the smart manufacturing workforce. “The manufacturing testbed will be at the nexus of Industry 4.0 research and education for the region,” Ursem says.
IN-MaC also funds a technology adoption program that connects manufacturers with faculty experts to help companies adopt advanced manufacturing technologies. “A spillover effect for manufacturers that engage in technology adoption projects or use the testbed facility will be the ability to learn new methodologies and skills that will equip companies to better leverage the capabilities of technology in order to become more competitive,” Ursem says.
Given how quickly manufacturing itself is changing, IN-MaC is committed to help prepare industry and Indiana’s workforce to remain competitive now and into the future.