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Inside UNF’s new advanced manufacturing programs (Courtesy of the Jacksonville Business Journal) — Stephen Stagon’s eyes lit up when he talked about the courses he will teach this spring.

The associate professor at UNF’s College of Computing, Engineering & Construction was instrumental in the university introducing a degree program in advanced manufacturing and a graduate degree in materials science and engineering. Both programs began this fall.

Stagon, who spent more than five years developing the curriculum and getting it approved by both the state and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology Inc., will teach courses on materials processing and subtractive manufacturing this spring.

“We have mapped the needs of industry, verified them across the accreditation board, and then we’ve hired individuals with the expertise in those areas,” Stagon said.

The program will teach students in five branches of advanced manufacturing: classical, materials and processing, robotics and control, manufacturing systems and industrial engineering.

The advanced manufacturing program will have three full-time faculty and pull four professors from its mechanical and electrical engineering programs. Courses will not be led by graduate assistants, but full-time faculty members.

So far, six students have signed up.

“The big draw is the students want to work with things and visually see something go from concept to reality,” Stagon said. “As a mechanical or an electrical engineer, you can design your thing in the computer, and you will never see it built all the way through.

“But for manufacturing, you’re not only the one that takes part in design for manufacturability – helping those other designers on the front end – but you are also figuring out how you shape the material, how you package the thing and you get to see how the whole thing is built.”

The First Coast Manufacturers Association applauded the new programs, saying they position the region for the modern manufacturing sector.

The idea of a shift in production that melds digital, biological and physical worlds has been in existence for years. UNF has embraced it in its engineering programs but wanted to create an advanced manufacturing program in order to provide specialization in an academic setting.

“It’s a very important component of looking forward in manufacturing,” said First Coast Manufacturers Association President Lake Ray. “Right now, manufacturing is undergoing its next industrial age with a lot of focus on digital and artificial intelligence. When we talk advanced manufacturing, it’s not going to be your traditional process.”

Chip Klostermeyer, dean of UNF’s College of Computing, Engineering and Construction, told the Business Journal earlier this fall that the undergraduate and graduate degrees in advanced manufacturing were created in part because the university has to “find a way to meet those needs that the business community has” and allow those to help UNF adapt its curriculum and the majors of offer.

While modern manufacturing features plenty of automation, it will not eliminate the need for skilled workers. What will change during this transformation are the strengths of the workforce.

“They are answering a need we have been talking about within the manufacturing sector,” Ray said about the UNF program. “It’s going to be about skilled training and shedding the idea that manufacturing is simply a hard, sweaty, difficult and dirty job, changing that into the image that it’s a clean and clinical process.”