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New opportunities arise for digital manufacturing technologists due to grant

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PNW recently received an $881,425 grant from the National Science Foundation to support Project MANEUVER, Manufacturing Education Using Virtual Environment Resources, by providing training for digital manufacturing technologists through the use of Virtual Reality which will strengthen STEM education and help remedy the lack of clearly defined career/educational pathways for entry-level DM technologists.

“A VR-based curriculum will be designed to educate and train skilled technicians,” Magest Chandramouli, the principal investigator on the grant, said. “Virtual training has immense potential in terms of courses using alternative delivery modes [distance education] with guided voice-over and visual cues to allow students to complete tasks in a paced manner. These courses can also facilitate collaborative teamwork through practical tasks for Project Based Learning and Active Learning.”

Ge Jin, associate professor and co-principal investigator, said besides advantages such as ease of access, replicability and dissemination, the VR framework can facilitate creating ideas and brainstorming for rapid prototyping and design evaluation.

Digital Manufacturing incorporates the use of technology, such as computers, as manufacturing tools and techniques for designing, visualizing, planning and optimizing processes and products for production. It is expected that more than half of the 3.5 million manufacturing jobs required in the U.S. will go unfilled as a result of a skills gap that can be acquired through the use of VR education.

The benefits of DM include its cost, material conservation, minimized labor and enhanced precision, according to Chandramouli. At present, there aren’t any clearly defined career/educational pathways for preparing technicians with DM skill sets, which makes this grant significant for opening up new opportunities in the future.

“There is a clear and imminent need to educate and train our future workforce with the skills required to avail the opportunities from the Digital Manufacturing boom,” Chandramouli said. “Hence, it becomes the ultimate responsibility of research and academic institutions to nurture talent leading to the generation of a skilled workforce that is competent in advanced manufacturing tools, techniques and strategies.”

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