Recently, I chatted with Dr. Paul Cohen, head of NC State University’s Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) Department. The department leads an advanced manufacturing institute that is focused on power electronics, as part of a White House project to advance specific technologies and create new manufacturing jobs in the coming years. He touched on everything from today’s engineering education to working with manufacturers to the future of 3D printing.
Design World: How would you characterize Industrial and Systems Engineering teaching in the classroom today as opposed to a generation ago?
Cohen: Teaching has changed dramatically in engineering over the last quarter century. Budgets have forced many programs to cut back or eliminate laboratory experiences. Fortunately, that did not happen at NC State, due to the foresight of my predecessors and we have expanded our capability to provide the engineers that industry needs.
The use of computer technology has also changed the classroom today. Lectures, assignments and other course materials can be made available to students on-line where they can access them from their dorm room or apartments. Some lectures are digitally captured for asynchronous learning where a student can watch at any time and any number of times for improved comprehension. We also use classrooms where every student has a computer and software instruction and practice happens at the same time. In addition, the use of software for problem solving is a part of many classes.
Design World: Do you bring manufacturers in to speak to/work with students?
Cohen: We have companies visit our classrooms, especially in senior design. There our students work in groups to tackle challenging design problems from industry. Industry sponsors share mentorship of the students with our faculty. So, they visit industry sites to formulate the problem, collect information and present to engineers and managers.
Our student societies (Institute of Industrial Engineers, Society of Manufacturing Engineers) have plant trips. [Recently], the Society of Manufacturing Engineers sponsored two maxi-vans full of students to visit Revlon. Last year, our SME chapter had students perform and deliver a cost-saving energy assessment to Kayser-Roth Corp, a hosiery plant in Burlington, N.C. The assessment was part of the Department of Energy’s Industrial Assessment Center program.
Design World: Is there a successful model that you think the U.S. should emulate—say Germany or Japan? What does that country(ies) do differently currently? How much progress have we made?
Cohen: Talking to my colleagues in other countries, they face the same challenges we do. The engineering student population continues to grow, and they are stressed to provide the laboratory and software resources necessary for a contemporary engineering education. The cost of higher education continues to push programs to decrease credit hours and increase the proportion of students who finish in four years. These considerations have caused a change in how we deliver engineering education and experimentation with non-lecture formats to improve student learning. I do not think that any one country has developed a superior way to teach engineering. International engineering education conferences provide a mechanism for the universities in many countries to benchmark what they are doing and investigate new methods of teaching.
Design World: Tell us about how the advanced manufacturing institute was awarded to NC State.
Cohen: The Department of Energy released the Request for Proposal for this institute, the second in the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, based on national need and the opportunity to reduce our energy dependence and create manufacturing jobs.
NC State has supported the area of power electronics for three decades with faculty hires and laboratory development. In addition, we are the recipient of a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center. The FREEDM Systems Center (Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management) seeks to develop the “Internet for energy.” It will transform the power industry in a similar way that the internet transformed the computer industry from the mainframe computer paradigm to the distributed computing we have today. Such a paradigm shift will be accompanied by massive innovation in green energy technologies.
The FREEDM System allows every energy user to not only be a customer, but to also act as an innovator of energy. The FREEDM Systems ERC will realize its vision through breakthroughs in fundamental research (system theory, advanced storage, and post-silicon power devices) and enabling technology development (secured communication, distributed grid intelligence, high-frequency and high-voltage power conversion, and distributed energy storage devices). The new institute is built on existing strength and investment in this area and also uses other more recent advances at NC State (such as 3D printing) to meet its goals.
These links can provide additional information:
Design World: What do you think is the most exciting thing that is happening at the institute?
Cohen: The Institute is exciting for many reasons. One is that it brings together such a large critical mass of industry (18), universities (5), and national labs (2) to work on a problem of critical importance (see list below) in an effort to revolutionize energy efficiency across a wide range of applications, including electronic devices, power grids and electric vehicles.
Our department will be involved with 3D printing of power electronics and possibly supply chain considerations. This is a challenging area that builds on the expertise of our Center for Additive Manufacturing and Logistics. The scale of the Institute is amazing—over $140M investment from many sources and shows the commitment from corporate America, NC State, The State of North Carolina and the federal government.
Eighteen Companies: ABB, APEI, Avogy, Cree, Delphi, Delta Products, DfR Solutions, GridBridge, II-VI, IQE, John Deere, Monolith Semiconductor, RF Micro Devices, Toshiba International, Transphorm, USCi, Vacon, X-Fab;
Five Universities: North Carolina State University [Lead], Arizona State University, Florida State University, University of California at Santa Barbara, Virginia Polytechnic Institute;
Two National Labs: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory
Design World: Do you see 3D printing as a technology that will ever supplant traditional manufacturing, or will it remain relegated to samples, custom items, prototypes, and smaller lots of products?
Cohen: In some areas, 3D printing will supplant traditional methods of manufacturing—but not all. In fact, it is already used for production by some companies in the U.S. and Europe. Like any manufacturing process, it depends on a number of factors—which is the most cost effective?
Our Center for Additive Manufacturing and Logistics has more than 20 3D printers for polymer, metal and ceramic—and is engaged in extensive research for industry. This is especially true for metals, where we have electron beam and laser technologies for printing. The center investigates new materials and their properties, process development, product design for 3D printing, finishing and logistics. There are still a number of challenges that lie ahead and our center is prepared to work with companies to overcome them.
As we learn to design in a way to take advantage of the features of 3D printing and solve these problems, these processes will be employed even more as all projections of the industry show.
See www.ise.ncsu.edu/ingearonline/articles/can-ise-power-the-world-with-3d-printing.html to learn how 3D printing contributes to power electronics and other areas.