Release Date: April 11, 2017
For the past year, the University at Buffalo has been developing online courses about Industry 4.0 for the world to consume.
Naturally, expectations were high that the “101” series would ignite interest in manufacturing’s future and open the eyes of learners to new career opportunities. But who foresaw it leading to relationship building across national borders, and a UB visit to our southern neighbors?
UB’s creation of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Technology massive open online courses (MOOCs) has sparked conversations between the UB Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE), a binational nonprofit organization and technical college in Mexico.
All entities involved are focused on the same goal: educating people about emerging digital technologies that are beginning to have a substantial impact on how products are made and how factories operate.
Here is how the story unfolds.
In 2016, TCIE led in conceiving and submitting a winning proposal for a project call to develop 10 MOOCs, in coordination with UB’s SMART (Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies) Community of Excellence, engineering faculty, the Center for Educational Innovation and industry partners. The project is an initiative of the Chicago-based, federally funded Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII).
Simultaneously, Mexico’s Ministry of Economy was touting Industry 4.0 and launched a similar competitive call for educating students, as well as executives and technical personnel of small and mid-size companies, in encouraging the adoption of digital manufacturing. The United States-Mexico Foundation for Science (FUMEC), which promotes binational collaboration in science and technology, and its partner the Universidad Tecnológica de Querétaro (UTEQ) were chosen to devise six classroom-based courses.
FUMEC President and CEO Guillermo Fernández was aware of UB’s course work and saw an opportunity to leverage the university’s expertise. He attended the October 2016 DMDII’s Workforce Development Advisory Committee hosted by TCIE and UB in Buffalo, where he connected with TCIE Executive Director Timothy Leyh.
FUMEC analyzed UB’s courses, identifying the topics appropriate for their audience, to determine the courses that they would create.
Carlos Meneses, coordinator of automobile sector programs at FUMEC, explained that UB’s courses are aligned with objectives of the Mexican initiative. “Yours is made for U.S. companies, but we could learn some things and adapt to the needs of the Mexican companies.”
The Mexican team was also encountering some obstacles on their development path, so it requested TCIE’s consultation in preparing and presenting material.
TCIE’s Director of Business Development Gary Simon and Senior Advisor Sriram “Sri” Vilayanoor traveled to the state of Querétaro in fall 2016. They met with FUMEC, UTEQ, economic development and government officials to better understand the efforts to spread enthusiasm for Industry 4.0. The itinerary included touring an information technology incubator park and meeting two software technology companies that embrace digital manufacturing practices and encourage other companies to do the same.
“We gained an appreciation for Mexico’s efforts to be forward thinkers in creating a platform that brings digital manufacturing into its business ecosystem,” Simon said.
The majority of the trip was dedicated to working sessions facilitated by Vilayanoor, with Simon’s assistance. Approximately 20 professors who are linked to the course project participated in focus groups, triggering conversations about what the target audience needs and establishing clearly identified course learning objectives.
Vilayanoor stressed to the faculty members that this fourth revolution in manufacturing is a “disruptive change,” and that it should be viewed as a chance to be a pioneer in new business concepts.
“In a lifetime, we see two or three opportunities for disruptive improvement, where you forget everything you know about the past and start from scratch,” he said. “This is one of very few disruptive improvements, even in America. But in countries like Mexico, this is probably a very, very rare moment.”
TCIE left the group with a prescribed structure for creating impactful curriculum. The Mexican team has since developed the courses and is in the midst of seeking funding opportunities to roll them out through UTEQ to companies, as well as the System of State Technological and Polytechnic Universities.