Purdue University Prepares Students for the Factory of the Future

The engineering program adds a smart manufacturing degree and immersive digital transformation learning labs.

Purdue Polytechnic's Smart Learning Factory, with a finished setup after recent installations.
Purdue Polytechnic's Smart Learning Factory, with a finished setup after recent installations.
Purdue University photo/John O'Malley

As manufacturers make a digital transformation overhaul of outdated manual processes on the factory floor, educational institutions must also take action to support the new required skillsets. After all, this is not your father’s factory floor anymore.

In an effort to provide relevant studies in the area of digital manufacturing, Purdue University recently added the Smart Manufacturing Industrial Informatics degree as a major in the Manufacturing Engineering Technology program, which is part of Purdue Polytechnic's School of Engineering Technology (SoET).

The new major includes an interdisciplinary curriculum focused on the application of science, engineering, information systems, and computing in manufacturing. Students pursuing this major incorporate Industry 4.0 technologies, including Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), big data analytics, cloud and edge computing, augmented reality (AR), systems modeling and simulation, autonomous human robot systems, additive manufacturing, and cybersecurity, among others.

The program focuses on helping people interact with technology in industrial environments, with a curriculum goal of revamping engineering technology education and preparing students for industry. And the best way to do that is in an interactive environment.

To that end, Purdue Polytechnic's SoET recently announced it will dedicate four smart manufacturing facilities located in Dudley and Lambertus Hall on Purdue’s West Lafayette Campus. This, according to the university, creates one of the most expansive learning ecosystems of its kind in the United States.

"The Smart Manufacturing Industrial Informatics degree is the cornerstone of our commitment to advancing engineering technology education," said Daniel Castro, dean of Purdue Polytechnic, in an article posted in the Purdue University newsroom. "These labs are not just facilities—they are incubators for innovation, where students can synthesize the full spectrum of Industry 4.0 technologies with hands-on problem-solving."

Bridging the gap

According to the Purdue article, the facilities are the final component in establishing Purdue Polytechnic’s new interdisciplinary Smart Manufacturing Industrial Informatics degree. It provides an immersive experience to prepare students to step into roles like digital manufacturing engineer, manufacturing data analyst, process automation engineer, or smart factory manager, to name a few.  

This is an important change in curriculum as companies try to implement new digital technology while struggling with a skills shortage. In the CPG industry, respondents to a CPG Next survey noted that a lack of expertise is the number one bottleneck in their digital transformation journey.

"Our smart manufacturing labs embody Purdue Polytechnic's proactive strategy to bridge the gap between academia and industry," Ken Burbank, professor and head of SoET, told the Purdue news team. "This is where we train future professionals and innovators, ensuring they are not just ready to enter the workforce but equipped to lead it."

Robotic devices in the Smart Learning Factory, provided by BBS Automation.Robotic devices in the Smart Learning Factory, provided by BBS Automation.Purdue University photo/John O'Malley

Experiential learning

The facilities include labs that include a suite of state-of-the-art technologies, from AI and robotics to cloud computing, providing a comprehensive hands-on experience that mirrors the complex environments of modern manufacturing. Students will have the opportunity to use real industry equipment and technology firsthand, provided by industry leaders like General Mills, Microsoft, Rockwell Automation, Accenture, Caterpillar, Fortinet, Endress+Hauser, and more.

Purdue Polytechnic's collaboration with industrial organizations ensures that the newest technologies are integrated into the curriculum so that students physically and virtually experience the factory of the future.


For More Information: Explore the transformational smart manufacturing ecosystem here, and learn about Purdue Polytechnic's educational and research offerings in manufacturing here.