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Alabama IMaDE Manufactures Workforce

UA collaborates with industry to lead the way in creating a job-ready workforce

By Alana Norris

Manufacturing jobs have become a major staple in the state economy, and The University of Alabama is doing what it can to supply a pipeline of workers.

In an effort to promote and expand on this growing field, the College of Engineering is embarking on adding a manufacturing systems engineering degree to its repertoire and opening a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing research and education center to its campus.

“This new manufacturing facility is part of an initiative oriented to develop a premier hub for multidisciplinary research and education in intelligent and advanced manufacturing systems and processes,” said Dr. Nader Jalili, mechanical engineering department head and director of Alabama IMaDE.

student pressing a button on a machine
Radley Scott, a research engineer, uses the control panel of the robotic cell equipment at the Alabama IMaDE manufacturing engineering lab in Paty Hall.

The Alabama Initiative on Manufacturing Development and Education lab, called IMaDE, was created to mitigate industrial problems by educating future industry leaders through hands-on experiences in real world scenarios.

UA’s manufacturing systems engineering bachelor’s degree program was voted on by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees in February 2021 and will next be audited by the Alabama Commission on Higher Education. The goal is for the program to debut in 2022, and it will have a distance learning option for people interested in earning the degree who work or are not local.

Jalili said the program supports UA’s mission by advancing the city, state, nation and world socially and intellectually through education and research. Several new classes will be added to the UA catalog in the coming semesters including 15 one-hour modular, elective courses like basics of robotics, flexible manufacturing systems, industrial robotics, introduction to industrial
management and more, which can lead to skill certification through industry partners.

“The proposed manufacturing systems engineering B.S. program will provide graduates the skills and knowledge for successful careers in manufacturing systems and processes, which include practical applications ranging from manufacturing processes to cyberphysical systems,” Jalili said.

 

Alabama IMaDE is located on the first floor of Paty Hall. Paty, a residence hall across a parking lot from H.M. Comer Hall, is also set to become a freshman living-learning center for engineering and computer science students called EXCEL. Both the lab and the LLC will open in Fall 2021.

“The educational facility at Paty Hall will enable hands-on, project-based learning in robotic manufacturing — taught using real-world industrial robotic manipulators
and software — as well as programming, operating and implementing automation systems,” Jalili said.

Roya Salehzadeh holds a controller next to a heavy welding machine
Roya Salehzadeh, a mechanical engineering doctoral student, is working on an integrative multimodal “Human-RobotHuman” communication research paradigm in the Alabama IMaDE lab.

Over the past couple of years, Jalili has been working on four interconnected components within Alabama IMaDE in addition to student study spaces: a state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing facility, a modern robotics and smart manufacturing teaching lab, an advanced and intelligent manufacturing systems research lab, and an innovation incubator for students, entrepreneurs and industrial partners to drive increased readiness levels of new technologies.

His hope is that the program will produce graduates who can address certain industrial needs not currently being met by higher education. He also sees the benefit industry will receive from research that will be conducted at UA.

The number of industrial facilities and high-tech businesses that have located to Alabama in recent years is a sign to Jalili that there is a need for this program at UA in order to sustain these companies with specialized employees. He said industry employees will have the opportunity to join the program as distance learners and potentially graduate and advance in their company.

“The state must have an adequately trained engineering workforce that is knowledgeable in advanced manufacturing and materials scientific principles as well as in cutting-edge manufacturing processes and systems in order to ensure the manufacturing sector continues to be a driving force for economic development in Alabama,” Jalili said.

Faculty and staff at UA have forged partnerships with Mercedes-Benz U.S. International, Inc., Honda Manufacturing of Alabama and several more companies to make this new endeavor successful. Theses industry partners offer their support through equipment donations, advising faculty on what students need to know before graduating, and employing graduates, co-ops and interns.

“Alabama must have an engineering workforce of adequate size and training that is educated in advanced engineering platforms as well as STEM-related technologies needed to support the growing high-tech and manufacturing sectors,” Jalili said.

Industrial partners are not the only support Jalili said the program needs. “We would like [the] UA engineering community to serve as an advocate for this initiative, [and] reach out to potential donors and support[er]s,” Jalili said. He is calling for experts to share their experience through guest lectures and research collaboration as well as donors who can help by funding equipment modernization and maintenance, naming facilities, and endowing professorships, fellowships and scholarships.

Learn more at eng.ua.edu/research/Alabama-imade.

In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s College of Engineering has more than 5,800 students and more than 150 faculty. In recent years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz, Boren, Mitchell and Truman scholars.


Author: Alana Norris    /    Posted on: May 11, 2021    /    Posted in:   Faculty and Staff, Mechanical Engineering, Outreach, Research, Students,    /    Features: