Manufacturing hub could fuel demand for more workforce development

2014-03-01T18:00:00Z 2014-03-03T18:18:19Z Manufacturing hub could fuel demand for more workforce developmentJoseph S. Pete joseph.pete@nwi.com, (219) 933-3316 nwitimes.com

HAMMOND | Purdue Calumet was not one of the more than 70 college, government and business partners that helped Chicago land a $320 million digital manufacturing research hub, but it has been involved in similar pursuits and could collaborate on workforce training needed for next-generation manufacturing jobs.

Researchers at the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute on Goose Island in Chicago will figure out how factories can use technology to cut costs, be more nimble and operate more efficiently.

They are expected to develop improved production processes and technologies that will require workers to be better trained.

Local colleges will have to step up to fill that demand, said Dan Botich, an adjunct professor of economics for Calumet College of St. Joseph and the executive of the Merrillville-based consulting firm Cender & Co.

"Educational institutions throughout the region like the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Indiana University Northwest and Calumet College will have to meet the needs of those companies," he said.

Purdue Calumet has been involved in a number of workforce training initiatives that could complement the innovations that emerge from the digital manufacturing hub in Chicago, said Niaz Latif, dean of the College of Technology. The college recently received a $2.74 million U.S. Department of Labor grant to retrain laid-off workers for advanced manufacturing jobs.

Enrollment in the school's mechatronics program – which trains workers on state-of-the-art mechanical, electric, control and computer engineering technologies – also has nearly tripled its enrollment, Latif said. More than 60 students are now taking the 21-week training program, which teaches workers how to operate and troubleshoot machines in high-tech workplaces such as Morrison Container Handling Solutions in Glenwood.

Purdue Calumet is a collaborating with Purdue University's recently launched Indiana Next Generation Manufacturing Competitiveness Center, or IN-MaC, an effort to advance high-tech manufacturing in Indiana, such as through workforce training programs.

Local companies already send workers for virtual training at Purdue Calumet's Center for Innovation through Visualization and Simulation Center, or CIVS. The virtual reality lab also has done projects to help manufacturers become more productive, similar to what digital manufacturing hub in Chicago will do on a much larger, national scale, said Chenn Zhou, a professor and CIVS director

"Purdue is a partner for this digital lab," she said. "Right now a lot of things are in the planning stages, and we're waiting for a bigger meeting with Purdue team leaders to discuss the lab infrastructure and how it's going to operate. Projects would be driven by industry. Any collaboration would be through the Purdue system."

Companies from all across the country will ultimately benefit from the research, she said.

"This is really great for the nation," she said. "This kind of concept will help any company of any size adopt more emerging innovations that will save them time and cost."

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