Have you ever dreamt of building an airplane? Which materials would you start with?

For the first time ever in British Columbia, aspiring engineers will have the unique opportunity to learn the entire manufacturing process through the new Advanced Manufacturing program at the University of British Columbia (UBC). The university is partnering with industry and government to reimagine industrial research and education for manufacturing in the 21st century.

“The whole concept of manufacturing has changed so much,” says Professor Rehan Sadiq, Associate Dean of the School of Engineering. “By the time an engineering student graduates and enters the workforce, he or she will be doing manufacturing in very different ways. We are at the forefront of a fourth industrial revolution where we are seeing a convergence of disciplines.”

Manufacturing virtual worlds

Digital technology is changing engineering, says Professor Anoush Poursartip of the Department of Materials Engineering. “The ability to measure the physical world is exploding, as is our ability to model the world through the use of equations,” he notes. “We are creating virtual worlds where we can simulate the real world exactly.”

With a burgeoning manufacturing technology industry, BC boasts the potential to become an advanced manufacturing hub. Graduates from the relatively new Master of Engineering Leadership in Advanced Materials Manufacturing, excelling in both technical and business management skills, are well-positioned to lead the coming industrial revolution. And the province recently committed to the creation of 135 domestic undergraduate seats in manufacturing engineering at UBC, with UBC funding an additional 25.

A range of research clusters

The university is also planning the development of a digital learning factory that would address the most significant challenges in modern manufacturing. A learning factory is the engineering equivalent of a teaching hospital, says Professor Poursartip. It represents the best of both worlds in combining academic rigour with hands-on training in advanced manufacturing, and allows students to learn how to balance performance and manufacturability to meet the needs of a new manufacturing marketplace.

For transportation engineering, that might mean working with biomimetic materials like carbon fibre-reinforced plastics to mould the fuselage of airplanes, or learning bio-manufacturing processes for a range of industries.

“The future of manufacturing is a mix of mechanical, material, electrical, and software engineering,” says Professor Sadiq. “Our vision is to become the hub of manufacturing programs in Canada.”