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.