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New Learning Platform For Cutting-edge Manufacturing Education

In the past decade, the U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) has launched nine public-private manufacturing institutes to spur U.S. advanced manufacturing industry forward in areas such as additive manufacturing, robotics, photonics, functional fabrics, and bio-fabrication. An important part of the institutes’ mission is workforce development, which includes online learning. DoD has tasked the university to stand up an Open edX platform for the DoD’s nine institutes and the larger advanced technologies community.

The university leads the education and workforce effort of the manufacturing institute and just launched the first two courses on the new platform, on photonic integrated circuit (PIC) sensors and on integrated photonics passive device testing. The courses cover technical cutting-edge material. The university will release five more courses this summer on the new platform, all tied to integrated photonics.

The DoD’s mission for the new learning platform is to reach far beyond hosting college-like classes. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is building an advanced manufacturing awareness course for high school students exploring potential careers that will go on the platform, tied to at least five of the manufacturing institute technologies. That project is part of a $3.2 million grant.

The university also plans to create technician and technologist training programs for students seeking careers in advanced technologies, but not necessarily interested in pursuing bachelor’s degrees. Many institutes are planning their online offerings, targeting students at all levels, even starting in elementary school.

Although some people might not associate the DoD with Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, it invests heavily in innovative STEM initiatives. The university received DoD funding from the Manufacturing Engineering Education Program to build technician programs in robotics and photonics, and to launch a Virtual Manufacturing Lab — a suite of virtual reality simulations in photonics and other advanced manufacturing technologies.

The DoD’s investment in the Open edX platform is consistent with its goal of making top-notch education more accessible for students at all levels. The Department of Defence is eager to help build a robust domestic manufacturing industry. To do this, we need cutting-edge advanced manufacturing education and training available to more Americans. This platform is an important way to do this and to bring these resources to the DoD workforce.

The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute recently received funding to create a virtual manufacturing environment on the Open edX platform, where students can train on virtual equipment. The environment could become a place to demonstrate competency and receive credentials. The robotics institute recognises the vast potential of virtual and augmented realities to quickly scale its manufacturing workforce in the use of robotics and automation.

U.S. researchers from the same university have been making technological breakthroughs including developing robotic piece-picking systems. As reported by OpenGov Asia, the robotic systems combine unique gripper designs with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine vision to help companies sort products and get orders out the door.

At the core of this robotic solution is the idea of using machine vision and intelligent grippers to make piece-picking robots more adaptable. The combination also limits the amount of training needed to run the robots, equipping each machine with what the company equates to hand-eye coordination.

The robotic system also utilises an end-of-arm tool that combines suction with novel underactuated fingers, which gives the robots more flexibility than robots relying solely on suction cups or simple pinching grippers. The data the robots collect are also used to improve reliability over time and shed light on warehouse operations for customers.

The data can be used to give people insights into their inventory, how they are storing their inventory, and how they are structuring tasks both upstream and downstream. Therefore, the researchers will have great actionable insights as to what may be a source of future problems.

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