Campus News

UB to create MOOC for digital manufacturing and design

Kenneth English, films an introduction to one of the digital manufacturing and design courses. Behind the camera is J. Michael Vick.

Kenneth English, deputy director of SMART at UB, films an introduction to one of the digital manufacturing and design courses at Moog Inc. Behind the camera is J. Michael Vick, digital media producer at Full Circle Studios. Photo: Tracy Puckett.


Published November 17, 2016

Liesl Folks.
“UB's powerful position as an innovator in this space ensures development of impactful curriculum. ”
Liesl Folks, dean
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

UB is developing a “101” series of massive open online courses (MOOCs) about digital manufacturing and design. The courses will roll out in January on the Coursera platform, which houses a wide range of MOOCs created by universities.

Digital manufacturing and design is the ability to connect different parts of the manufacturing lifecycle through data, and to use that information to make smarter, more efficient business decisions.

The project is an initiative of the Chicago-based Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), a $320 million public-private partnership led by UI LABS that works to accelerate deployment of emerging technologies and digitize manufacturing nationwide.

UB and partner organizations are producing a 40-hour course, dubbed a “specialization,” composed of nine classes and a capstone project. The specialization, which is noncredit-bearing, is for anyone interested in understanding how digital advances are changing the landscape and capabilities of factories, from high school graduates exploring manufacturing careers to operations managers seeking information on the newest technologies.  

“As manufacturers evolve to remain productive and competitive, they are increasingly adopting new technologies that require elevated technical skills,” says Liesl Folks, dean of UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “There is a glaring need to rapidly foster a workforce adept in the tools that underpin the ‘digital thread’ concept, as well as attract new workers to an industry facing a growing employee shortage. UB's powerful position as an innovator in this space ensures development of impactful curriculum.”

UB became a Tier 1 member of DMDII in July 2015, joining a consortium of fellow academic institutions, companies, nonprofits and government entities in pursuit of contributing to the future of digital manufacturing.

“The University at Buffalo has been a key strategic leader in DMDII from the beginning,” says Dean Bartles, DMDII founding executive director and president of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. “The resources UB has brought to DMDII in helping to carry out the institute's mission makes them the poster child for academic partnership in an institute.”

Timothy Leyh, executive director of The Center for Industrial Effectiveness (TCIE), the business outreach center of UB’s engineering school, will serve as program manager of the MOOC. Principal investigator is Kemper Lewis, director of the SMART (Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotics Technologies) Community of Excellence and professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UB.

The multidisciplinary project team involves faculty members from the engineering school, staff from UB’s Center for Educational Innovation, the Office of the Provost for SUNY and corporate partners from the Buffalo Niagara region and beyond.

Such collaboration among academia and industry was the goal of DMDII when it convened a workshop last year to discuss the MOOC.

“The practical and thorough approach that Buffalo is taking to provide unprecedented learning opportunities in digital manufacturing and design will compel learners of all walks,” says Haley Stevens, DMDII’s director of workforce development and manufacturing engagement.

Stevens says UB’s incorporation of “academic experience, matched with an industry peer review” were attractive features, as were “the real meat around lending a proper definition and educational content around digital design, drawing from UB’s engineering education and investment to be on the forefront of digital manufacturing and design.”

This was the first competitive project call endorsed by DMDII’s Workforce Development Advisory Committee as part of the institute’s overall workforce development strategy. Stevens explains that DMDII worked closely with RTI International, which previously had conducted a Gates Foundation-funded study with Duke University that revealed employers — and in particular manufacturers — are interested in offering MOOCs to their workforces for education and training purposes.

“We recognized we had an opportunity to partner with the country’s — and one of the world’s — largest providers in Coursera to produce first-of-its-kind coursework and material around an emerging topic,” Stevens says.

While final approval from the U.S. government is pending for the project, course development is underway. The project team includes:

  • UB instructors Kenneth English, deputy director of SMART; Rahul Rai, associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering; Sara Behdad, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and industrial and systems engineering; Chi Zhou, assistant professor of industrial and systems engineering; and Shambhu Upadhyaya, professor of computer science and engineering.
  • Regional industry partners Accu-Solve Group, Full Circle Studios, Buffalo Manufacturing Works and Moog, Inc.
  • Industry partners beyond Western New York, including Lockheed Martin, Siemens Product Lifecycle Management Software Inc., Society of Manufacturing Engineers, Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), SAE International, Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) and Commonwealth Center for Advanced Logistics Systems (CCALS).

The first three courses are scheduled to be available Jan. 2, with each subsequent course released one month at a time. All learners will be able to access the course content (readings and videos) for free. For a fee, learners will gain access to all assignments to test their skills and be eligible to earn a specialization certificate.

To enroll, visit, create an account, and register for the Digital Manufacturing and Design Technology Specialization.