Engaging Students in Manufacturing’s Digital Revolution

  • July 09, 2015
  • News

By Tim Shinbara, AMT-The Association For Manufacturing Technology

The revolution in manufacturing isn’t industrial, it’s digital. Automation is increasing its reach across more shop floors than ever before, and with it is coming a wave of data – but not always an understanding of how to analyze it and turn it into actionable information.

The old lexicon “knowledge is power” might have evolved to “data is power,” as digital manufacturing gives rise to big data, smart factories, and the Industrial Internet. While manufacturing once found itself far behind the IT world in widespread adoption of connected and communication-ready operations, shop floors are catching up rapidly. This is with good reason: Manufacturing stands first as the most data-intensive industry, far outpacing the industries behind it – government and healthcare. However, the majority of that data still goes unused.

More and more, it’s less of a choice to automate and digitize operations than it is a necessity for staying competitive. Continuing to meet the need for data optimization in manufacturing is going to take an army of innovative minds who want to carry the revolution forward.

This is a natural fit for students. For one, Millennials have always been raised in a connected, digital world, and they have an expectation that things will work within those parameters. Without the restraints of thinking, “that’s how it’s always been done,” students can bring a new set of ideas for how to address challenges. These concepts are the spirit of the MTConnect Student Challenge.

This challenge is a Department of Defense-sponsored initiative to develop ideas and applications using MTConnect, an open, nonproprietary communications standard for manufacturing equipment and devices. The standard is based on XML and HTTP and is free to download and implement. Winning submissions to the challenge are eligible for cash prizes totaling $33,000.

The MTConnect Student Challenge is comprised of two competitions: one for ideation, and a second for applications. For the ideation contest, students are required to interview manufacturers to identify a challenge, describe a potential solution to that challenge, and submit a paper. For application development, students are required to develop a software application that demonstrates innovative use MTConnect. Complete details are available at www.challenge.gov/challenge/mtconnectstudentideas and www.challenge.gov/challenge/mtconnectstudentapp.

The contest is open to all U.S. college students – community college or university, undergraduate or graduate. The challenge may be of particular interest to those studying mechanical, industrial, or electrical engineering, as well as computer science or other IT-related fields.

Beyond the cash prizes, the challenge offers benefits through participation. By connecting directly with a manufacturer, students can develop their professional network, potentially finding future employers. The challenge can also make a great thesis, capstone, or internship project, and gives students content for a professional portfolio. Educators can also consider incorporating the challenge into their curriculum.

Students can be a great ally in building a successful future for the industry. It’s time to involve them in the changing face of manufacturing, where the revolution will not be televised, but it will be digitized.

Tim Shinbara is VP-Manufacturing Technology at AMT-The Association For Manufacturing Technology. Based in McLean, Va., AMT represents U.S.-based manufacturing technology builders and distributors.


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