Integrating MTConnect into the RPI Engineering Curriculum

September 2013

One of the biggestlogo_rpi areas of concern that US Manufacturing and learning institutions need to address immediately in order to compete on a global field is the skills gap that has grown over the last two decades. The skills gap is the result of many factors: such as the baby boomers exiting the workforce, the younger generations’ lack of interest in manufacturing, training cuts, the re-shoring of manufacturing jobs, the growing average age of workers, and the lack of STEM based education foundations are all major contributors. With MacKintok’s interest in MTConnect technologies they came up with a concept of developing relationships and partnerships between industry and academia using MTConnect as the catalyst.

MacKintok visited a number of learning institutions, manufacturing organizations and factories around the country to try and create a pilot example to see if the concept was a viable solution to the skills gap. MacKintok found interest but the problem was in the implementation of a pilot program. In January 2013 MacKintok approached Dr. John Wen of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY and discussed the concept which led to an invitation to RPI’s Advanced Manufacturing Conference in April. While at the conference MacKintok, along with Hamilton Numbers, met with Sam Chiappone, the Manager of the Fabrication and Prototyping and the Manager RPI’s Manufacturing Innovation Learning Lab (MILL).mt_machine

The discussions centered on Intelligent Manufacturing, Virtual Machine Shops and MTConnect and the importance of introducing these concepts to engineering students so that they obtain the knowledge and skills to advance manufacturing practices. Both parties met numerous times until June when it was decided that it would be an incredible opportunity to integrate MTConnect into the engineering curriculum and RPI planned to offer two graduate level Pilot Courses. As a result the Advanced Manufacturing Processes and Systems (AMPS) and the MTConnect Hardware and Software Development Project were created.

The AMPS class is under the direction of Dr. Dan Walczyk and is a one-semester, project-based lecture/laboratory course sequence. The class will provide graduate engineering students with the ability to develop new manufacturing processes and systems. Mr. Chiappone and Dr. Larry Ruff are responsible for the MTConnect portion of AMPS. 

In addition to the AMPS projects, MacKintok is also engaged in an MTConnect Hardware and Software Development Project which is a two semester senior capstone engineering design project in the Design lab at Rensselaer. The class is intended to develop systems for monitoring the machine tools in RPI’s fabrication facilities, including but not limited to, MILL and the Haas Technical Center. As the first semester of this multi-semester project, the team will focus on both hardware and software for monitoring of a numerical controlled machine tool that does not have any built in monitoring capability. Dr. Junichi Kanai, Associate Director- Design Lab, is the lead instructor for this project.

Prior to the classes starting there were a number of challenges which would require industry companies to be involved. One particular challenge had to be met before the classes even started, implementing MTConnect on a machine at RPI. MacKintok and RPI reached out to TechSolve, a Cincinnati-based company who was more than ready to volunteer their services. The efforts of TechSolve laid the groundwork for both classes to be a success.

With the MTConnect protocol implemented, RPI was looking for companies who developed MTConnect applications and companies who were end users. Along with MacKintok and Hamilton Numbers, MTConnect participating companies US Army Benet Laboratories and Real Time Development volunteered their time to lecture to the students about the history of MTConnect and how it is utilized in the factory.

logo_fflAn added bonus to the class includes MacKintok mentoring a team from the AMPs class and implementing MTConnect on machines such as MakerBots at the Fayetteville Free Library’s (FFL) Fab Lab facility. The FFL's Fab Lab is located just outside of Syracuse, NY in the quaint town of Fayetteville and is utilized by library patrons, specifically secondary and high school students. The exciting benefit of this will be exposing the general public and future manufacturing engineers and technicians to MTConnect and Intelligent Manufacturing.

After nine months of dialogue involving a university, a public library, the US Army and four software companies MTConnect is becoming a part of the educational framework in Upstate NY with the potential to touch students from grade school through graduate school. With the success of the RPI classes MacKintok and Hamilton Numbers are now looking to use this experience as a stepping stone to collaborating with other learning institutions around the country.