A new master’s degree in advanced manufacturing will help engineers embrace the future of the industry
The second industrial revolution began in the late 19th Century, more than 100 years after its predecessor, when a slew of scientific breakthroughs gave the world mass production, enhanced communications and electrification.
The third one kicked into gear some 70 years later as computers infiltrated workplaces and heralded the new information age.
But the gaps between industrial revolutions are narrowing so sharply that we’ve already had two this century.
A decade ago, Industry 4.0 unleashed artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics on an impossibly vast scale, while the current transition to Industry 5.0 is all about being more environmentally friendly and placing the worker at the centre of the production process.
Suddenly, the societal benefits of switching to renewables, re-using waste and developing biomaterials have become more important than pursuing raw profits.
And any technology professional tempted to take a breather should know that Industry 6.0, which will be shaped by nanotechnology and quantum computing — isn’t far off.
Harnessing new skills
“The pace of change can be bewildering, especially for engineers expected to take every technological leap in their stride,” said David Holmes, Associate Professor of Mechanical Design and Manufacturing at Queensland University of Technology (QUT).
“Industries are demanding entirely new skill sets to unlock the possibilities being thrown up, but the sheer scale of the transformations taking place has created a massive talent shortage that threatens to stall the incredible progress being made.”
The opportunities may be enormous but, as there aren’t nearly enough engineers with the skills that industry is crying out for, so are the challenges. And the situation is projected to worsen unless many more people can be attracted to the profession.
This skills shortage extends to those who may have been in the industry for 15 or 20 years already. They need to upskill to be at the leading edge of the profession.
To help address this skills shortage, QUT is launching a new Master of Advanced Manufacturing, a 1.5-year, full-time postgraduate degree to equip students for future careers in Industry 5.0 environments.
Aimed at recent graduates and professionals already in the field, the degree will focus on sustainable and human-centred manufacturing, examining the pioneering practices in digital and bioprocess engineering.
Students will learn in QUT’s cutting-edge research facilities, such as the Mackay Pilot Plant, which converts biomass into biofuels, green chemicals and other bioproducts, and the university’s ARM Hub, a jointly owned innovation centre for agile robotics, AI and manufacturing design.
“A lot of people think manufacturing is just about making cars or domestic appliances, but the term covers many other important areas,” said Sara Couperthwaite, QUT’s Professor of Industrial Chemistry and Mineral Processing.
“One of them is bioprocess engineering, which involves developing products such as agricultural fertilisers and feeds, pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, renewable chemicals and polymers.”
Other applications include making sustainable jet fuels, developing new foods through precision fermentation and examining how farm and food waste can be transformed into high quality sustainable materials.
The master’s course includes hands-on projects with biotechnology companies in industrial biotechnology, precision fermentation and circular bioeconomy. Graduates will attain the skills needed to lead complex bioengineering projects, create new bioprocess technologies and assess the economic feasibility and sustainability of bioprocesses to respond to current and emerging challenges.
Industry 5.0 principles at work
Holmes recently spent three months at one of BMW’s state-of-the-art manufacturing plants in Germany, where Industry 5.0 principles are being used to develop concept cars made entirely from recycled materials. These are all fully circular and can be reused multiple times.
But, for the design engineers involved, learning new techniques is only half the battle.
“They understand that it’s equally important to know when to apply them, and how they can fit into the value chain to create efficiencies and flexibility,” Holmes said. “It’s not a scattershot approach; it’s highly targeted with a sophisticated cost-benefit analysis.”
One area in BMW’s smart factory where advanced AI manufacturing and enhanced sustainability have combined to achieve such flexibility is the single production line, which adapts to electric, hybrid and petrol vehicles and can assemble a range of different models. Crucially, it also detects faults at the earliest possible stage which saves time and reduces waste.
“The machines learn which components fit into which cars and the most efficient ways to construct them,” Holmes said. “That brings immediate benefits to the company, its customers, and the planet.”
QUT engineering students regularly intern at BMW with the cohort growing next year.
Centre of excellence
Meanwhile, Queensland itself has become a magnet for advanced manufacturing. Boeing will need to recruit skilled engineers to build a new autonomous fighter jet at its new Toowoomba smart factory, while PWR, which supplies cooling systems to nearly every Formula One team, is investing in a major facility at the Gold Coast suburb of Stapylton.
Elsewhere in the state, multinational medical manufacturers and food and beverage plants are already deploying Industry 4.0 techniques.
“The knowledge our students are gaining is highly sought after all over the world and completely transferable between industries,” Couperthwaite said. “We’re helping to establish Australia as a centre of excellence in the advanced manufacturing space with sustainability embedded from the get-go.”
- QUT is also offering accelerated one-year part-time graduate certificates in Bioprocess Engineering and Digital and Robotic Manufacturing to equip students with the technical skills and knowledge they’ll need to progress their careers.
Applications for courses starting in February 2024 close on 31 January.