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WVU strengthens West Virginia’s manufacturing infrastructure through $3.8 million NSF grant

Smart manufacturing lab

West Virginia University will work with $1.4 million of the $3.8 million EPSCoR RII Track-2 grant from the National Science Foundation to bring smart manufacturing processes to the Mountain State. (WVU Photo/Paige Nesbit)

Engineers at West Virginia University are preparing the manufacturing industry in West Virginia for the fourth industrial revolution by bringing advanced smart manufacturing processes to the workplace to improve efficiency and build sustainable futures for companies.

Story by Adrianne Uphold, Graduate Assistant

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.—

Associate Professor Thorsten Wuest and his team have collaborated with the University of South Carolina to develop advanced smart manufacturing technologies and help educate and upskill the workforce in West Virginia, South Carolina and the United States at large. 

“Smart manufacturing enables us to not only keep the manufacturing industry competitive in a high-wage country, but also to improve quality, efficiency and sustainability,” Wuest said. “We have only begun to scratch the surface of what this fourth industrial revolution has to offer, and we need to work together – manufacturing companies, academia and policy makers – to support this transition.” 

Wuest is the co-principal investigator of the $3.8 million EPSCoR RII Track-2 grant from the National Science Foundation. WVU will work with $1.4 million of the grant and alongside University of South Carolina’s Associate Professor Ramy Harik, principal investigator of the project, to strengthen the manufacturing infrastructure in West Virginia and South Carolina. This will range from operational technologies and process optimization to training a skilled workforce supporting smart manufacturing enabled factories of the future. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic reminded us forcefully how important a strong and resilient manufacturing industrial base is for our country – this project contributes to equip our manufacturers to successfully compete on the global marketplace,” Wuest said. 

Cyber infrastructure and artificial intelligence are core components of smart manufacturing in West Virginia. According to Wuest, it is crucial for these fully integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems to respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions within the factory and supply network to satisfy every more demanding customer needs. 

The research team will investigate how interactions within and between manufacturing facilities can be improved, how real automation impacts operators and processes, and how these parties can act in accord to support the entire digital manufacturing process. 

Wuest will work alongside Statler College engineers Zhichao Liu, assistant professor of industrial and management systems engineering, and Todd Hamrick, teaching associate professor of fundamentals of engineering, as well as John Deskins of the Chambers College and Lynette Michaluk of the WVU Center for Excellence in STEM Education.  

“West Virginia is economically depressed and also struggling with a changing industrial landscape as traditional industries in the region such as coal mining continue to decline,” Wuest said. “The manufacturing industries in West Virginia and Appalachia must adapt to regain their competitiveness and contribute to the sustainable and long-term well-being of their constituents.  

“Our project addresses the critical need to provide a sustainable future and prosperity through opportunity in value added manufacturing careers for our home states of West Virginia and South Carolina, as well as the entire U.S,” Wuest continued. 

The project introduces a novel future cyber-manufacturing paradigm – the Factory-to-Factory (F2F) network framework. Geared towards automation, F2F networks require interoperability of stakeholders and efficient inter-systems communication for data, information, and knowledge. This is a foundational requirement of smart manufacturing systems to merge the physical world with their cyber counterpart to fully reap the benefits of developments in artificial intelligence, digital twins, and Internet of Things.  

“It will create a blueprint model for future manufacturing technologies that can be integrated with a F2F network to increase small-scale and industrial manufacturing capabilities across the U.S.,” Wuest said. “To expand our workforce infrastructure, we will democratize smart manufacturing knowledge and establish a lifelong learning pipeline for smart manufacturing ranging from K-12 education, higher education, to professional development support for scholars and industrial professionals.” 

The project will also create online learning resources and STEM-oriented smart manufacturing summer programs for K-12 students and provide internships for college and graduate students through industrial partners. 


-WVU-

au/09/22/21

Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit

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