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By many accounts, manufacturing is making a comeback in the United States. US manufacturers have added 500,000 new workers since the end of 2009, energy costs have dropped, and labor costs in competing countries such as China and India have been inching upward.
College of Engineering graduates may well be among the first to benefit, thanks to Kenneth Lutchen, ENG dean and a professor of biomedical engineering, and to an $18.8 million in-kind gift of product design and lifecycle management software from PTC® that is currently used by about 27,000 manufacturers worldwide. Under Lutchen’s leadership, the college is transforming its curriculum so that all students, regardless of major, will graduate with a thorough understanding of how to develop new products, from concept and design through manufacturing and delivery.
That knowledge will be nurtured in the new Engineering Product Innovation Center (EPIC), a 20,000-square-foot teaching and design studio equipped with the latest industry technology that will be housed in the former Guitar Center space at 750 Commonwealth Ave.
While other schools are making efforts to prepare engineering students for advanced manufacturing, says Lutchen, the ENG program is unique in how it will transform the entire engineering curriculum, enabled by modern technology and software infrastructure and through a partnership with regional industries.
“It’s going to create a new kind of engineer, who knows what’s involved in product creation,” Lutchen says. “This facility is meant to expose students to how you go from an idea to a manufacturing-ready and deployable product that you can make money with—and all the steps in between.”
Funded through the University, ENG alumni, and regional industries, EPIC is scheduled to open in January 2014. It will house a computer-aided design (CAD) studio, demonstration areas, fabrication facilities, materials testing, and project management software. The facility will have a flexible design and offer students supply chain management software, 3-D printers, robotics, and laser processing.
“Wherever possible, things are going to be put on wheels,” says Gerald Fine, EPIC director and an ENG professor of the practice in the mechanical engineering department. “We’ll continually be looking to update and replace old equipment over the course of the life of the center.”
And while EPIC will be one of many learning spaces for engineering students, its opening signals a sea change for the college’s undergraduates. Starting with a small pilot program next spring, all sophomores will be able to take an engineering design course, and all students will have access to EPIC’s labs. Students will be trained in and use PTC Creo®, the company’s award-winning CAD software, and PTC Windchill® product lifecycle management software, which will integrate real-world processes, data, and business systems into the classroom.
“When I first heard from Dean Lutchen about the idea of EPIC, I was thrilled,” says Michael Campbell (ENG’94), executive vice president of PTC’s CAD segment, who will serve on EPIC’s advisory board. “I always felt that my engineering education lacked that real-world perspective, that real-world exposure to the challenges, processes, and complexities of collaboration and the sophistication of tools. Now we have a chance to share all of that with students.”