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The Role of Computer Games in the Future of Manufacturing Education and Training

Sudhanshu Nahata, PhD ASML SME Member Since 2018
By Sudhanshu Nahata, PhD ASML SME Member Since 2018

THE MANUFACTURING INDUSTRY is arguably the backbone of any nation’s economy. Manufacturing represents about 11 percent of U.S. GDP and more than 8 percent of U.S. employment. As a result of Industry 4.0, the U.S. manufacturing industry is going through a paradigm shift, both in terms of technological developments and the skill sets required.

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Key manufacturing skills needed in Industry 4.0.

Based on a 2018 Deloitte study, jobs in the manufacturing industry are poised to grow by 4.6 million by 2028. Unfortunately, the same study also predicts that there will be more than 50 percent (or ~2.4 million) skilled manufacturing positions that are likely to remain unfilled. This shortage will force U.S.-based manufacturing industries to outsource or shift their manufacturing base elsewhere to find a more accessible workforce. This became a major concern during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic when the U.S. was heavily dependent on other nations to provide essential medical supplies. Therefore, making U.S. manufacturing stronger is an urgent need, and we should all look at creative ways to bring about a change.

To bridge the growing skills gap, (1) we need to ensure that our STEM workforce has the right skills and motivation to pursue careers in manufacturing, and (2) look elsewhere for general skill sets that can be repurposed toward fulfilling careers in manufacturing. One potential approach to developing and attracting a new manufacturing workforce is to incorporate elements from computer games into manufacturing education, i.e., gamification of curriculum and training.

Computer games are traditionally used for recreation; however, they are known to actively engage users with notions such as immersion, flow, enjoyment, presence, motivation and game engagement. Among the U.S. population, game penetration has steadily grown over the past five years and is at a staggering 66 percent in 2018, with an average play of seven hours per week. If people are growing up playing games, why not let them learn in the same framework? Thankfully, women represent 41 percent of all the U.S. game-playing population in 2020, which makes gamification an attractive means to target them for manufacturing jobs.

Through gamification of manufacturing curricula, the overall vision is to improve student engagement using active learning. This approach is universal and can be applied to all phases of education, i.e., K-12, higher education and training. Gamification provides a unique platform where students experience the freedom to explore, freedom to fail and receive instantaneous feedback, all of which make the learning fun and stress-free.

Another target demographic is underemployed people who are typically well educated but unable to find deserving opportunities and are potentially looking to change to an in-demand career. They could be graduates in majors such as criminal justice, illustration, etc. and could possess many of the required skills for Industry 4.0. They amount to 20+ million individuals and could be targeted via popular social media platforms such as YouTube, LinkedIn or Instagram. And to target them, industries can advertise (and possibly incentivize) appropriate games to test users’ aptitude toward a job category. A beneficial outcome is when the user performs well and gets to know about an opportunity that the user previously was unaware of and responds to.

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The “Polycraft World” modification allows “Minecraft” players to create flamethrowers. To do so, players learn about plastics processing to refine and fabricate the necessary components to build them.

A critical aspect of gamification is to feed talent (with up-to-date skills) to the manufacturing industry. The customizable nature of gaming can be explored to deliver industry-specific knowledge, where students can get a feel for the skill sets required to be successful in an industry. There are a couple of ways to do so: universities and industry, together, can create a rich gamified curriculum to impart in-demand manufacturing skills and create a curriculum such as “manufacturing for non-majors,” which could be applicable for a wide talent pool (e.g., underemployed people).

Thus, gamification of manufacturing education and training has the potential to address the anticipated skilled workforce deficit in manufacturing. The key idea is to capitalize on the gaming craze by creating games that provide an immersive experience to efficiently impart knowledge and the required skill sets. Students learn skills applicable to a manufacturing job while the game collects data and uses that data to target high performers for direct recruiting.

The original abstract for this concept was submitted for the 2019 NSF Manufacturing Blue Sky Competition and presented at SME’s 47th North American Manufacturing Research Conference. Sudhanshu Nahata, PhD, was subsequently selected as the 2019 NAMRI | SME David Dornfeld Manufacturing Vision Award winner for his submission. Full details are available at sme.org/blue-sky-competition.

SME’s North American Manufacturing Research Institution Selects 2020 Awardees

SME’s North American Manufacturing Research Institution announced the 2020 winners of its S.M. Wu Research Implementation Award. GM inventors Sheri Kurgin, PhD, and Jie Gu, PhD, were recognized for their COMP system and method invention, which was developed to perform global offset compensation in multiaxis machine tools. The patented and commercialized COMP system and method has been integrated in all the new machine tools in production for more than eight years.

The S.M. Wu Research Implementation Award was established in 2006 to honor the late Shien-Ming Wu, PhD, FSME. The award, named for Wu, a University of Michigan professor, highlights outstanding original research presented as a paper at SME’s annual North American Manufacturing Research Conference that shares significant commercial and/or social impact after implementation.

Among the list of previously awarded original research are selective laser sintering, laser-assisted machining, assembly systems, simulation models for machining processes, machine tools and DEFORM, a finite-element modeling package.

For additional award information, visit sme.org/namri.

2020 SME Distinguished Faculty Advisors

SME has chosen three university professors to receive its 2020 Distinguished Faculty Advisor Award. This award, established in 2011, is presented to SME student chapter faculty advisors for their continued oversight, engagement and awareness efforts on their local campuses, advocating for students and the manufacturing industry.

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Pictured (left to right) are 2020 SME Distinguished Faculty Advisors Bahram Asiabanpour, PhD, CMfgE, Texas State University; Steve Dusseau, PhD, Indiana Tech; and Sagil James, PhD, California State University, Fullerton.

Faculty advisors use their expertise to integrate real-world design projects into their classrooms, offer onsite research lab experience, sponsor attendance at industry conferences, and co-authorship of scientific papers published in peer-reviewed journals and professional conferences.

The 2020 Distinguished Faculty Advisors are:

  • Bahram Asiabanpour, PhD, CMfgE, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas;
  • Steve Dusseau, PhD, Indiana Tech, Fort Wayne, Ind.;
  • Sagil James, PhD, California State University, Fullerton, Fullerton, Calif.

SME provides a monetary award to each awardee as well as a recognition certificate. Additional award information can be found at sme.org/faculty-award.

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