Next-Gen Engineers: SME’s Digital Manufacturing Challenge

SME conducts a Digital Manufacturing Challenge each year that follows a specific theme.

In 2016’s competition, students from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell won with their inspector drone to be used as a means of inspecting bridges.

Each year SME conducts a Digital Manufacturing Challenge that follows a specific theme. Using 3D prototyping, entrants are invited to follow the theme, its rules and guidelines, and submit designs.

In the most recent challenge, the SME description stated: “Student designers and engineers are invited to figure out how to help us get around better. More specifically, contestants are challenged to consider how our inherent human physical mobility and/or performance may be restored, enhanced or given new capabilities whether on land, in/on the sea, in the air or in space. Such ‘performance mobility’ may be represented by a functional item, subsystem or system.”

In 2016’s competition, students from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell won with their inspector drone to be used as a means of inspecting bridges. In 2016’s competition, students from the University of Massachusetts at Lowell won with their inspector drone to be used as a means of inspecting bridges.

Entrants are typically college and university engineering students who focus on the challenge and submit an entry. Arif Sirinterlikci, Ph.D., CMfgE, is the engineering department head and director of Engineering Laboratories at Robert Morris University. He is also a professor of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at the University. He helps coordinate the theme, the contest and judges, and the applicants’ entries. We spoke to him for his insight into the world that the digital manufacturing challenge unveils.

Digital Engineering: Can you provide an overview of the 3D Digital Manufacturing Challenge, how it came to be and the intent of the program?

Dr. Arif Sirinterlikci: This was done as a means to engage students so the concepts of AM (additive manufacturing) could be highlighted in a fashion that would not have IP (intellectual property) issues. This would also train the incoming workforce on how to apply these technologies more effectively and thus advance the industry as a whole.

DE: Who will be participating?

Sirinterlikci: The target is to have students submitting the entries. Getting them to open their minds and consider the options that DDM (direct-digital manufacturing) enables can lead to more than great entries—it can lead to advanced engineers. Cross-functional teams of up to four students each are encouraged to promote teamwork and enable more challenging concepts to develop.

DE: Why mobility?

Sirinterlikci: We have had a number of themes over the years and our judges always try to come up with something that will help society and advance the technology. Mobility has the potential to meet unique applications that many of us may not be aware of and that DDM could help greatly.

DE: What becomes of the designs presented, or what do you anticipate will become of them?

Sirinterlikci: The winner will be presented their award at the RAPID conference; some mention of the additional contestants may be given but due to time restrictions the focus is on the contest winners. They will also be invited to present a webinar on their entry. The other contestants may get publicity in our magazine, but nothing specific is defined to date. If possible, some or all of the winning entry may be built by a RAPID exhibitor.

DE: What is the best way to stimulate STEM career pursuits and get students engaged with manufacturing design?

Sirinterlikci: As with anything, “make it easy” would be nice, but you also have to make it fun. These students get to use a lot of their creativity and develop things that couldn’t have been done before. In addition to developing students, we anticipate faculty will annually integrate this competition into their course work—perhaps even as part of a capstone project, making it an integral part of their curriculum.

DE: Do you have any corporate sponsors for the event?

Sirinterlikci: We are beginning to entertain sponsors, but have wanted to ensure this was a neutral and contestant-focused competition. As more contests are appearing we are evaluating sponsors to enlarge the promotion, give a larger prize to the winners and hopefully help these amazing students find future employment.

DE: Anything else you’d like to tell us about the event?

Sirinterlikci: The ability of these students to compete is only the tip of the iceberg. Their ability to share their learning with other students expands what can be achieved. The visibility they receive will hopefully give great minds a chance to find employment with support for these technologies. We are not changing the masses overnight, but we are making a continual impact. Hopefully we will all see advanced technologies as a result of these creative and brilliant minds as they apply what they have learned in the industry.

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Jim Romeo

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, VA. Send e-mail about this article to [email protected].

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