Wayne State engineering faculty collaborating with Washtenaw Community College to train students on lightweight materials in manufacturing

A research team comprised of faculty from Wayne State University and Washtenaw Community College (WCC) was recently awarded a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education Program. Wayne State College of Engineering faculty members Jimmy Ching-Ming Chen, assistant professor of engineering technology, and Gene Liao, professor of engineering technology and electric-drive vehicle engineering, are co-principal investigators on a project titled “Training Tomorrow’s Technicians in Lightweight Materials: Properties, Optimization, and Manufacturing Processes.”

In response to an imminent need for skilled technicians in advanced manufacturing and automotive technology within the area of lightweight materials, the two institutions intend to develop integrated curriculum in these emerging technologies in order to develop a deeper talent pipeline of educators and industry leaders. Courses will be multidisciplinary, project-based and designed around specific lightweight materials or categories of materials, rather than focused on specific manufacturing disciplines.

“The use of lightweight materials in manufacturing has emerged as a transforming innovation,” said Chen. “Lightweight materials are changing the nature of advanced manufacturing, from designing for manufacturability to the manufacturing processes to the repair of parts and objects built with these materials. Concurrent with this shift in materials and the corresponding changes in design and manufacturing processes is the need to train the workforce of today and tomorrow in these technologies.”

Washtenaw Community College is also joining with Square One Educational Network to engage and recruit K-12 students in lightweight manufacturing training, a key strategy in addressing the sustainability of the advanced manufacturing industry.

This project is the first of its kind in Michigan and unique across the nation in that it will develop course materials and laboratory exercises in lightweight materials and their broad applications for community college students and technicians.

“Southeast Michigan is a leader in research and development for lightweight materials manufacturing in the aerospace, automotive, defense and health care sectors,” said Chen. “As the use of these materials becomes more widespread, design and manufacturing technicians will require education and training to incorporate new technologies and processes into their skill bases.”

The principal investigator for this project is Thomas Penird, professor of industrial technology at WCC. Allen Day, professor of automotive services at WCC, is a co-principal investigator.

The grant number for this project is 1601261.


Wayne State University is a premier urban research institution of higher education offering more than 380 academic programs through 13 schools and colleges to nearly 28,000 students. For more information about engineering at Wayne State University, visit engineering.wayne.edu.

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