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UNF joins Smart Innovation Manufacturing Center in search of AI, data solutions (Courtesy of the Jacksonville Business Journal) — The University of North Florida is part of a collection of universities that is working to transform the manufacturing industry by incorporating artificial intelligence and data into processes.

Earlier this month, the university banded together with Purdue University, the University of West Virginia and Microsoft officials to create a Smart Innovation Manufacturing Center that is focused on using artificial intelligence to democratize manufacturing solutions.

The SMIC is under the umbrella of the Smart Manufacturing Institute — a non-profit that is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Energy — that considers how the cultural and technological transformation of manufacturing and industrial development will benefit the country.

Gökan May, an assistant professor of advanced manufacturing at UNF, will serve as the university’s point person for its work over the next 12 months. May, who is also an Editorial Board member of the World Manufacturing Forum, spoke with the Business Journal about the program and the impact it will have on this region. 

What is the goal of your Smart Innovation Manufacturing Center?

Our main objective, because this is just the beginning, is that this is a long-term plan for the next 10 years. Our main objective is to democratize AI solutions to help all industries, especially small and medium-sized manufacturers, to achieve new levels of efficiency, quality and productivity.

Now, what we see in the world, and in U.S. is that mostly large companies have access to these tools. They have (research and development) departments and AI tools. But we feel small and medium-sized manufacturers are left behind.https://d2b696639dccebdb0330abb0f871ae0f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

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We will try to have AI solutions that can be generalized that can be used by small and medium-sized manufacturers so we can improve the whole landscape of manufacturing. This will close the gap in different sizes of manufacturers.

What will be the benefit to manufacturers here in Jacksonville and elsewhere?

In Florida, there are approximately 20,000 manufacturing companies. For every human, manufacturing is a big part of our daily life. If you are in your office, or your house, everything is manufactured, and they are manufactured in some facility.

In the long term, there will be a huge benefit to the entire Northeast Florida region. Manufacturing is shifting toward this kind of (artificial intelligence) solutions and the next generation of technologies.

…Now, the skills needed for the future of manufacturing shift toward a more cognitive-based which focuses on data science. This means new competences need to be developed. It requires public and private partnership. 

What are attributes factories of the future will need to be successful?

They need some kind of infrastructure from the internet of things. Their assets should be connected to some platform, like what we are developing here. The data should be collected and analyzed. They should have a mindset of circularity, where they consider the social impact, environmental impact and they consider economic efficiency.

This is not an individual effort. Many of us in the manufacturing industry, we should promote business models that promote concepts that arise from the fourth industrial revolution.https://d2b696639dccebdb0330abb0f871ae0f.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

What is the industry telling you?

One of the main concerns for them is the skills of the new generation of workers. It is not easy to find the exact qualified person for a job. Machine learning and software engineering are on the rise. It’s easy for Google and Facebook to reach that talent. It’s not easy for smaller companies to reach the skillset of the next generation. They would like the possibility to educate and generate their workforce at universities.

We are doing this in universities, and it should be going on in the companies as well. Manufacturing (education) should not only go on at universities, but (through) lifelong learning. People should update their skills. That’s one of the main things.

One of the findings of a 2020 paper you published notes that full potential of industry-academic collaboration has yet to be achieved. How will this help in that pursuit?

The first step is it will connect with local manufacturers in three different states. After the establishment of this project, we will have a connection and we will listen to industry. This will, maybe, create an opportunity for us to have projects with local companies.

This kind of idea can be turned into a senior design project (for our students). It is already established in our mechanical engineering and electrical engineering (departments). We will extend this into advanced manufacturing. From here, there can be a lot of ideas or connections, which will create opportunities for collaboration between industry and universities.