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Driving Toward a New Model for Auto Manufacturing Education at Clemson University

How the workers and factories of tomorrow are created. Collaboration, innovation, and a willingness to re-design at all levels, from the manufacturing process to the education of the designers and workers involved in the system.

“Building smart factories and even smarter students. Clemson University’s work with its partners in creating the CU-ICAR represent some of the best forward thinking. Their collective efforts will create engineers capable of bringing the best and most innovative techniques to automotive manufacturing.” – Matthew Wallace, CEO.


In today’s rapidly changing manufacturing landscape, Clemson University (Clemson, SC) takes a fresh approach to manufacturing education for the nation’s future automotive engineers. Melding advanced manufacturing research with shop-floor technical skills, the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR), home to the nation’s only graduate department of automotive engineering, brings together an interesting mix with teaching practical shop-floor skills to both graduate research students and technical students from the nearby Greenville Community College.

Starting about five years ago, the Clemson engineering program began incorporating the systems integration side of manufacturing at CU-ICAR, which was founded in 2007, noted Laine Mears, Ph.D., BMW SmartState Endowed Chair of Automotive Manufacturing, professor and founding faculty member in the Automotive Engineering department at Clemson.

Laine Mears, professor and director, Clemson
University Vehicle Assembly Center

“We really wanted to get a holistic look at automotive manufacturing,” said Mears, a fellow of SME and ASME. “Why not build a program that has graduate students and technical students, with all of them working on the same problem at the same time? Let’s define a new model for education.”

Clemson’s engineering students not only dive into their research, but also add shop-floor training in several key technologies—such as wearable sensing, robotic automation, data and analytics, smart inspection, and virtual planning with simulation—on the factory floor.

Questions abound in manufacturing on what will constitute the future digital factory. “We still don’t know what it is,” said Mears. “What do you guys [students] think it is? It’s a great opportunity.”

Marrying MFD with DFM

By integrating programs of manufacturing research with graduate students, engineering with undergraduate students, and technical expertise with technical college students in the same place, at the same time, on a systems-level, open-ended design problem, Clemson is aiming for a new national model, Mears noted.

Clemson engineering students perform a walkaround test on a BMW at the shop.
Image courtesy Clemson University

“Our theme is marriage of our new concept, Manufacturing for Design, adapting manufacturing systems in order to realize completely the designer’s intent, together with traditional Design for Manufacturing [DFM],” he said. “We do not want the manufacturing operation to be a restriction, but rather symbiotic with design so both disciplines can come to a full potential.


Read More at Advanced Manufacturing.