The University of Texas El Paso is moving ahead with its plans to become a center for advanced engineering and manufacturing education. With the aid of some government and industry grants and charitable donations, it is adding an advanced manufacturing technology research center and a new engineering curriculum focus to its College of Engineering.
Texas governor Rick Perry has announced that the state will invest $3 million through the Texas Emerging Technology Fund to help create new integrated 3-D systems technologies through the Structural and Printed Emerging Technologies Center (SPEC) in the UTEP College of Engineering. Industry partner Lockheed Martin Aeronautics will contribute $3 million toward five-year operating costs of the new center, and the University of Texas System has pledged $3 million in construction and equipment funds—for a total of $9 million—to launch the state-of-the-art advanced printed electronics research facility.
The SPEC Center, as it will be called, will take advantage of and build upon the existing world-class rapid-prototyping or additive manufacturing equipment and research available now in the college's W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation.
Additive manufacturing—making a part or product by adding layers of material in an efficient way that results in less waste—and other technologies are already being used at the Keck Center to build a variety of 3-D devices. The new SPEC Center will combine these manufacturing technologies with printed electronics technologies to build entirely new functional products. The SPEC Center will initially focus on printed electronics, but will have the capability to produce devices of nearly all types, sizes and materials, limited only by a researcher's imagination.
The SPEC Center will be directed by Kenneth H. Church, a well-known expert in the printed electronics field who holds a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Oklahoma State University. The SPEC Center will be co-directed by Professor of Mechanical Engineering Ryan Wicker, Ph.D., the current director of the Keck Center.
The SPEC Center will be supported by an industry partner, aerospace company Lockheed Martin Aeronautics, which will tap the expertise of engineering faculty for a number of projects based on 3-D layered fabrication, printed electronics and other advanced technologies.
UTEP's manufacturing-technology facilities also include the NanoMaterials Integration Laboratory (NanoMIL), where researchers are integrating nanoscale or submicroscopic materials into microscopic assemblies to create unique electronic devices and components and the new Research Institute for Manufacturing and Engineering Systems (RIMES), which produces advanced software tools for best-practice design of complex products and systems, such as those used in the aerospace and defense industries.
A separate donation from UTEP alumni Bob Malone, president and CEO of First National Bank of Sonora, Texas and former chairman and president of British Petroleum (BP) America, and his wife, Diane Malone, along with Halliburton, will fund a new program that will be a model for how engineering is taught around the country. Their combined gift of $2 million will fund development of the program and scholarships for engineering students.
The Leadership Engineering Program includes a broad-based curriculum of engineering design, project management and innovation, along with an emphasis on business, communication, ethics and social science. It is expected to launch by the fall of 2012 and represents a new paradigm for engineering education.
"What some people are calling renaissance engineers, we call leadership engineers," said Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. "The overarching goal is graduation of a new pedigree of qualified engineers with the professional skills, business acumen and strategic foresight in addition to engineering prowess to meet the needs of industry in the 21st century."
The new program will educate engineers through a "liberal-technical" approach, featuring a new curriculum designed to capture the interest and imagination of talented, young leaders looking to turn their ideas into a reality.