Greenheck’s automated processes include sheet metal fabrication systems, robotic welding and assembly cells, automated material storage and retrieval systems for components, robotic paint lines and robots that load and unload machines.
“We will continue to grow and add new team members but at a slower rate, and more of the production jobs will become higher skilled and higher paid,” said Graf, an engineer and past member of UW-Stout’s manufacturing engineering advisory board.
The automation leadership program will provide the skilled leaders to manage those automated and robotic systems. Management positions in automation leadership are expected to grow 8% more than other management positions nationally through 2031.
A flexible, collaborative program
Technical and community college students, like these in the smart manufacturing lab at Northcentral Technical College, can finish an automation leadership degree at UW-Stout. / Northcentral Technical College
Kirchner and Graf are excited about the program’s flexibility. Because it’s online, technical college transfers and current employees looking to advance their carers can finish their degree in about two years from home.
Also, with the Wisconsin Technical College System providing credit options to high school students and WTCS’ transfer agreements with the UW System, teenage students can get a head start on the degree.
“UW-Stout has truly listened to the needs of industry,” Graf said. “We have been asking for years for clean, easy progression from high school to technical college associate programs, to bachelor’s degrees that give credit and recognition for prior education and on-the-job learning.”
Kirchner agreed. “Students can literally be 75% of the way to a degree a year out of high school. They’ll spend way less, carry much less debt and earn impressive salaries years earlier than their peers. That’s what innovation and disruption in higher education looks like.
“Wisconsin and the U.S. are in dire need of educational institutions willing to see higher education for what it will be in the future – highly flexible, hands-on, career-relevant, affordable and efficient. (This) degree is a prime example of where higher education must go. It is exactly what employers are asking for and is tremendously forward-thinking,” Kirchner said.
Graduates will be able to solve broadly defined engineering problems; design Industry 4.0 and automation systems, components or processes; analyze data produced by Industry 4.0 systems and utilize findings for continuous improvement; and apply Industry 4.0 technology to lead digital transformation projects for manufacturers.
Darren Ackley, vice president of learning at Northcentral Technical College based in Wausau, said most WTCS graduates transferring to automation leadership will be from programs such as electromechanical, automation, and smart manufacturing at NTC, which has an Industry 4.0 Smart Manufacturing Lab.
“This will be a great option for alumni and current students, as they will have the opportunity to complete their bachelor’s degree without having to move or quit their current job,” Ackley said. “By ensuring that WTCS students have the ability to transfer between WTCS schools and guaranteeing the acceptance of SACA certifications at UW-Stout regardless of the degree program, this pathway simplifies the credit and knowledge/skills transfer for students.
“We are excited for the opportunity to partner further because we recognize that both our students and our industry partners are looking for this type of degree and appreciate the flexibility that UW-Stout is able to offer,” Ackley said.
Technical + leadership skills
A smart tabletop factory helps students learn about automation in manufacturing. / Contributed photo
Automation leadership also will develop students’ skills in management, leadership and quality improvement through SACA-aligned core courses such as Project Management, Organizational Leadership, Lean Manufacturing, Digital Transformation, Internet of Things in Manufacturing and Automation Leadership.
Program graduates will enter the workforce with strong credentials — SACA certifications, which they can complete before or after transferring to UW-Stout, and industry experience through a required co-op or internship.
UW-Stout projects that within five years the program will have about 80 graduates and an annual average enrollment of about 50. In addition to transfer students, current UW-Stout bachelor’s students in engineering, technology and management have expressed interest in the program.
Automation leadership is a good fit with UW-Stout’s already strong programs and faculty in science, engineering and technology — especially expertise from the department of operations and management, which will oversee the program along with Program Director Xuejun “Jason” Liu. Three new courses have been developed for the program, but they also will dovetail with existing STEM university programs.
Professor David Ding, director of the Robert F. Cervenka School of Engineering and associate dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Management, said the program is a perfect fit for UW-Stout.
“To increase entry points, it provides students the opportunity to start from high school all the way through options for a master’s program to become a leader in digital and automation transformation in manufacturing. UW-Stout’s mission is to prepare students for careers through applied learning and research, professional experiences, and collaborative partnerships to benefit a global society,” Ding said.
UW-Stout offers a master’s degree in operations and supply management.
The program aligns with the mission of UW-Stout’s Discovery Center, the primary outreach and engagement organization for regional businesses. The Northwest Manufacturing Outreach Center is part of the Discovery Center.
This article was originally published on UW Stout’s website.