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Building an engineering curriculum for the era of digital manufacturing

By Simon Firth, HP Labs Correspondent

January 28, 2020

What do modern engineers need to know in order to thrive in the era of digital manufacturing? A newly-established curriculum for engineering education developed by HP Labs and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), offers an answer.

Established first as a series of short courses offered by NTU’s Centre for Professional and Continuing Education (PaCE), the curriculum is designed to provide students with an end-to-end view of the digital manufacturing pipeline.

“It’s a process that I describe as going from “art to part,” says HP Senior Fellow and Chief Engineer Chandrakant Patel who led the curriculum design in collaboration with NTU professors of Mechanical Engineering Khoo Li Pheng and Chen Chun Hsien.

Patel is a longtime champion and practitioner of workforce training and has consistently argued that students need a holistic understanding of what it takes to design and fabricate the physical parts they are being asked to engineer. He has also long advocated for designs that reduce the lifetime energy consumption of the systems built from those parts. Such “least lifetime joules” systems, he argues, must account for energy used across the system, lifecycle, including material extraction, manufacturing, waste mitigation, transportation, operation, and reclamation.

“In one sense the holistic story hasn’t changed at all, although it has gained greater impetus given global sustainability challenges,” Patel suggests. “This is still about understanding the entire process that takes you from an idea to the creation of a specific “least lifetime joules” 3D object. But in another sense, what we’re doing with this new curriculum is acknowledging, and teaching people to master, a genuine paradigm shift in engineering.”

That shift has been enabled by the advent of industrial 3D printers capable of producing easily-customizable parts with entirely new contours and physical attributes that offer manufacturers both previously-unachievable efficiencies and novel ways in which to solve design challenges.

“The dawn of the 21st century cyber-physical age necessitates efforts like this.”

Chandrakant Patel, HP Senior Fellow and Chief Engineer

Initial NTU-PaCE Digital Manufacturing short courses

Initial NTU-PaCE Digital Manufacturing short courses

“Consider a liquid cooling system used in thermal management of computers and automobiles,” says Patel. “HP’s industrial 3D printers allow us to optimize cooling system pumps for peak energy efficiency at a given mass flow (kg/s) and pressure drop (N/m2). The designer can create a variety of pump impeller shapes in a single batch with contours that were hitherto not possible, and do it in short order. This is the magic of sustainable systemic design for 3D industrial printing.”

In building its new set of Digital Manufacturing short courses, the HP-NTU team is focused on covering the complete digital manufacturing process. They are planning courses on subjects including how 3D printed objects are designed, how the printers themselves are made, how to create a 3D printing factory, how such a factory is dynamically provisioned, and then how to secure the entire manufacturing chain.

The new curriculum also supports the recently launched HP-NTU Digital Manufacturing Corporate Lab [insert link], which aims to drive innovation, technology, skills, and economic development critical for the advancement of digital manufacturing.

The HP-NTU collaboration on both research and education is a natural one, Patel believes. “Singapore is widely respected for its forward-thinking economic planning and investment in academic research, and HP is among the few companies in the world with both a deep and broad understanding of the entire digital manufacturing pipeline,” he says.

With students now enrolled in its initial Digital Manufacturing short course series, NTU-PaCE is planning additional offerings, and NTU engineering faculty hope to develop some of the short courses into semester long classes, eventually building a master degree program in Digital Manufacturing.   

While Singapore-based students qualify for a tuition discount, PaCE courses are open to students from anywhere in the world. And while some Digital Manufacturing students will be current or future HP employees, Patel imagines that many companies within the wider digital manufacturing ecosystem will want their employees to receive training of the kind being developed at NTU-PACE.

“The dawn of the 21st century cyber-physical age necessitates efforts like this,” Patel believes.

“My hope is that the world comes together in creating the digital manufacturing workforce necessary to build sustainable cyber physical systems at the crossroads of people, profit, planet, and petabytes of data.”