BGSU program to meet critical workforce needs in advanced manufacturing and logistics

In a continued effort to meet critical workforce needs, Bowling Green State University has established a three-year research program for K-12 educators aimed at increasing the number of students who pursue careers in advanced manufacturing and robotics — a key economic driver in the state and region.

“We’re not producing enough skilled workers in advanced manufacturing in this region,” said MD Sarder, professor and chair in the university’s College of Technology, Architecture and Applied Engineering, who is leading the program. “It is our responsibility as a public university to help train the next generation of leaders in these emerging fields.”

Research Experience for Teachers, funded by a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, will engage area high school and community college educators in cutting-edge, hands-on research in advanced manufacturing and robotics during six-week summer workshops at the university.

The educators will then introduce those concepts to their students. The goal is to build awareness of the opportunities available in engineering while also changing the perception of what it means to work in manufacturing today.

“Manufacturing isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago when engineers had to get dirty and did all the work,” Sarder said. “In advanced manufacturing, you may not even have to touch a single machine. You can do all those things on computers and handheld devices.”

Sarder acknowledged that it’s difficult for students to envision what a career in engineering entails but said early exposure is essential.

“I have seen a lot of students who want to be biologists or environmentalists,” he said. “They can see those things and relate to them in their lives. That’s not the case in many engineering careers, and we hope to change that through this program.”

Another focus of the program is to increase female and minority representation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, so 18 of the 36 educators selected to participate will fit that criteria and will come from majority-minority and economically disadvantaged school districts.

Assuming each educator has roughly six sessions with about 30 students per year, the program could potentially impact nearly 6,500 high school and community college students during its three-year duration.

The workshops begin next summer and will focus on emerging areas of advanced manufacturing, including sensors and actuators, advanced robot programming, CNC programming, CAD/CAM, 3D printing and e-factory, a virtual platform for simulation and offline programming of industrial robots.

Educators will partner with BGSU engineering technology faculty to complete a dedicated research project. Examples of projects include safety in advanced manufacturing workspaces, cybersecurity, development of safe and efficient material handling systems using fixed automation and sustainable recycling based on machine learning, among other topics.

In addition to the research, participants can job shadow at the many local companies that use advanced manufacturing technologies. Toledo ranks No. 1 for its use of industrial robots among the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States, according to a study by the Brookings Institution.

In the final week of the workshop, participants will focus on developing classroom learning materials, including working robots, models and instructional modules.

“That engagement is going to continue beyond the project duration,” Sarder said. “Our goal is to help educators implement their learning modules and build relationships with students at those institutions.”