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BYU MFGEN Helps Pave the Path for Future Academia

Two years ahead of the curve, BYU Manufacturing created a smart manufacturing curriculum that gives its students greater opportunities to learn and innovate.

No textbooks. No previously designed curriculum. As stated by Associate Professor Yuri Hovanski, smart manufacturing is the “area identified as the future for the next 20 years” of manufacturing engineering. With no previous author to the education style for smart manufacturing, Hovanski assumed the responsibility of creating the new curriculum, making BYU the first to use smart manufacturing within the classroom setting.

Smart manufacturing, known by various names such as industry 4.0, is an integration of information technology and operational technology; or rather, it is an intersection between data and manufacturing. Physical equipment is logged into a digital system, which takes data from the machine and sends information back out to it.

While there are thousands of digital languages, smart manufacturing uses software that produces a unified connectivity. In other words, it creates a translation for these languages, enabling a variety of users to operate the system. Smart manufacturing simply collects the data and deduces calculated predictions, allowing the worker to make the most informed and correct decision.

In the classroom, Dr. Hovanski notes that the students enjoy working with smart manufacturing tools. The possibilities of innovation are increased as the students visibly create real time interactions with data.
Photo by Nate Edwards

The BYU Manufacturing curriculum offers students the opportunity to develop their knowledge of smart manufacturing through classroom teaching and hands-on development with equipment found at few other universities.

“A lot of people will build a research program and then try to create curriculum that supports their research program,” Hovanski said. “We build curriculum that brings students up to a level where we can do meaningful research…They’re able to go do things that they wouldn’t be able to do at another university.”

The development of this curriculum led to a collaboration between BYU and technical education companies PTC and Festo Didactic. PTC and Festo Didactic will provide more than $250,000 in hardware, software, and cash to support the students and the curriculum’s continued development. These partnerships made the creation of a smart manufacturing curriculum possible.

Peter Zink, director of Education Advanced Technologies at PTC, said that PTC strives to enable learners, looking how they can best provide support and encouragement. “The faculty are a gateway to the students,” Zink explained. By assisting BYU in establishing a new curriculum, they assist the students in learning.

Ultimately, smart manufacturing’s goal is to expand the circle of workers who can participate in the manufacturing process. As tasks become simpler to perform, a more diverse range of employees can be enlisted to work within the manufacturing process. Professor Alison Olechowski from the University of Toronto focuses on CAD programs that help improve the engineering digital world. She and Hovanski recently spoke at the PTC Digital Transformation in Education Summit. “I think he’s exceptional in talking about increasing participation and diversity in the smart manufacturing context,” Olechowski said of Hovanski.

After two years of teaching the curriculum, BYU now has several other universities starting to meet with their manufacturing department to discover how the program works and how they can achieve the same success at their schools. Thanks to Hovanski and the support of many others, BYU Manufacturing has set a precedent to follow.