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University-Industry Engagement Week

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New U Cincy institute designed to boost future workforce for Industry 4.0/5.0

A detailed article on the University of Cincinnati’s Industry 4.0/5/0 Institute and its integration with industry partnering efforts appears in the January issue of University-Industry Engagement Advisor. For subscription information, click here.

The University of Cincinnati College of Engineering and Applied Science has established what they’re calling the “Industry 4.0/5.0 Institute,” designed to better prepare students for future careers as part of the workforce talent that will be required by leading firms in this space. The institute will mirror the National Science Foundation’s Industry/University Cooperative Research Center (IUCRC) model, a successful partnership program with universities in which clients pay membership fees that support research geared to solving real-world industrial challenges. In fact, says Manish Kumar, one of the two UC professors who created the institute, “for the most part it follows that model.”

UC, notes Kumar, has a long tradition of collaborating with industry, starting with its first co-op program in 1906. That may be one reason that companies including Siemens, John Deere, Kinetic Vision, Ethicon, Stress Engineering, and Innovative Numerics are already working with the institute.

“Being situated in the middle of the manufacturing belt of the U.S., we’ve had particularly strong ties with manufacturing companies the last four or five years,” says Kumar, “and we have this 4.0/5.0 as one of [our] pillars. To develop this strong program, we have been strategically hiring faculty members in this area.”

He explains that Industry 4.0 includes “AI and all new technologies” in spaces like IoT in industries involved in computing, communications, and generating and sending data. All of this, he notes, has contributed to 4.0 over the last decade, while Industry 5.0 “is still a future thing” for the most part since most small companies are still not even in 4.0.

The impetus for the institute began in March 2021 when Kumar’s dean came to his department “and asked us to seriously do something big in this area. We had critical mass; this was the right time,” Kumar recalls. He chaired the planning committee and formed a group comprised of six faculty members and four industry advisers, who together worked to explore the possibilities.

“We first had to understand the needs of our industry collaborators,” says Kumar. “We started by sending a survey to all of them — over 100 companies. We wanted to see what their needs and challenges were, and if they thought this kind of collaboration could help.”

Based on their responses, it was clear that industry partners were struggling when it came to Industry 4.0. “They were struggling because they seriously lacked a skilled workforce in that area, and second, when you talk about Industry 4.0 it’s not just one engineering discipline that contributes to it,” Kumar explains. “You must have expertise in multiple disciplines, and successfully completing projects in this area was often challenging. With these two issues in mind, we started forming a vision for the institute.”

Beyond developing new talent, he also realized it was important to address adoption of the technologies as well. “For example, we were working for a company and installing a machine, but when it came to adoption workers were skeptical about putting a camera in their workplaces — even though it just looked at panels. Adoption was a big issue, and it comes from developing trust, respecting privacy, and all other human, legal, and socio-economic issues. We realized that if we established this institute, it was not something only our [college’s] students and faculty would be involved in; we needed to get faculty from all different colleges and areas of expertise involved,” Kumar explains.

“How could we engage faculty as well as industry? Can we create a platform where industry came with their challenges and we within the university community formed teams of our peers to respond to those challenges and provide solutions? That was our primary end goal, as well as focusing on fulfilling the skill needs of these companies. So we created an environment where we can train not only students, but also create a platform for workforce training for these member companies.”

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