The time of COVID-19 has brought online courses and conferences into the mainstream more than ever before. This has been particularly true in the additive manufacturing industry for company webinars, and even entire trade shows. Within this context, it seems natural for three world-leading institutions in academic AM research– Boston’s MIT, Milan’s Polytechnic University (Polimi) and Munich’s Technical University (TUM) to virtually join forces on their AM courses.
Tre senior faculty members, one from each institution, held an online class for students at Polimi and TUM (MIT does not have a course on AM this semester). Polimi Professor Bianca Maria Colosimo from Polimi, joined TUM Professor Christoph Meier and MIT professor John Hart, enabling the students from the two classes to listen to lectures held in three different parts of the world, focusing on different AM topics.
“It was amazing to see that COVID-19 is not just creating challenges and difficulties but also opportunities,” said Professor Colosimo. “The forced digitalization of teaching during this pandemic has helped us realize that this can also be a way to cancel distances and create joint projects around the world.”
Professor Colosimo’s lecture from Milan focused on artificial intelligence and sensors within the additive system with the Industry 4.0 framework. The second lesson, held by Professor Christoph Meier discussed digital twin elements with AM with a specific focus on process simulation and powder recoating systems. Professor John Hart, who also holds the popular MIT online courses on AM and is a co-founder of metal binder jetting rising star firm Desktop Metal, presented new metal binder jetting and the use of X-ray systems in the process.
“The idea to connect our classes virtually allowed us to share our different perspectives on AM, and more importantly connect our students,” Professor Hart commented. “We had many great questions and discussions, and this kind of collaborative teaching model is certainly here to stay, even when we can travel again (which we are all very much looking forward to!)”
The Polimi students were part of a class that unites 80 students from the Industrial Engineering Mechanical Engineering and Design & Engineering Masters. The TUM students participate in an advanced course titled “Introduction to recent research topics in computational mechanics – Additive Manufacturing” and is offered to students of the Mechanical Engineering Master. Typically, around 20 students participate in this advanced course at TUM.
One key benefit of this cross-national and cross-disciplinary lecture format was to bring together lecturers with different scientific expertise and students with different academic backgrounds in a complementary and synergetic manner. “This approach—said Professor Meier—allowed to broaden the spectrum of knowledge conveyed to the students while reducing the workload of the individual lecturers at the same time. The students were excited to get in touch with each other and also with new aspects of AM. This was reflected by the very active involvement of the students leading to vibrant and fruitful discussions during and after the lectures. Also, the general – scientific and industrial – field of AM will benefit from such course formats leading to graduates with a broader horizon, a cross-disciplinary way of thinking, and international connections for a future collaboration network. Given the positive feedback so far, we definitely plan to repeat and even intensify this type of teaching format in the next years.”
Additive manufacturing education is a hot topic, which Milan’s Polytechnic University is also exploring as part of the SAM (Skills for AM) project. Composed of 16 partners, the consortium is committed to supporting the growth, innovation, and competitiveness of the AM sector. All partners have expertise in manufacturing technology and/or in the provision of education. The project, which has been co-funded by European Commission, tackles the current European need for developing an effective system to identify and anticipate the right skills for the Additive Manufacturing (AM) sector demands in response to the increasing labor market needs, thus, contributing to the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth of the AM sector.
Emanuele Carraro, one of the Polimi students that participated in the session confirmed that he found the experience particularly compelling “not only because of the subjects treated, which were very interesting, but also because it made me truly realize how AM isn’t a discipline of study limited to my university but is subject of interest for many fellow engineers around the globe, and it made me feel closer to them.”
That is certainly one of the very particular features of additive manufacturing: a still relatively small and very close-knit global community, that spans across borders, united by the passion of truly transforming the way we are going to manufacturing things for centuries to come. The experiment was a success and it seems inevitable that, even when physical lessons return everywhere, it will be repeated. The entire AM industry stands to benefit from it.