Laser Technology Partnership Between U-M and German Institute
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The Fraunhofer Resource Center, located on the Engineering Campus of the University of Michigan, is a newly organized affiliate of the Fraunhofer Society, which encompasses a number of Institutes for Manufacturing Technologies in Germany. The first component of the not-for-profit institute will be a center for laser processing which will be similar to the internationally recognized Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) in Aachen, Germany. The inauguration of the Ann Arbor office brings to reality the vision of the Fraunhofer Society and the College of Engineering to establish a center that would serve the automotive industry and would also implement the desire of Fraunhofer to expand its international operations. In addition, it would fulfill a need of the College to educate engineers in emerging technologies and to transfer the products of the associated research to industry. The Center will combine the expertise and experience of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology in Aachen with the capabilities of faculty and students of the College of Engineering to deploy laser processing technology for industry. The motivation of the College of Engineering to consider this partnership with the Fraunhofer Society, and finally, to enter it, arose from two rather independent needs, which I will consider separately below.
The primary function of the College of Engineering is, of course, to educate engineers for the markets that will employ them. We have long heard from the industries that employ our graduates that despite an excellent education in the basics of engineering, the graduates lack ability to apply this knowledge and are frequently ineffective team workers when they begin their initial work assignment. We have, at Michigan, launched several major initiatives to address these defects. We are currently examining the entire undergraduate curriculum to identify extraneous material and to indicate modified or new courses and sequences that would serve our graduates better. We have also developed a new professional Masters of Engineering degree intended to provide a rounding of the engineering education to facilitate the transition from academia to the industrial work place. Our Masters of Engineering in Manufacturing, for example, requires courses in management taken at the Michigan Business School and also requires a term project usually performed at an industrial site.
In the process of developing plans to address these needs, we studied the response of our peer institutions; MIT, Stanford, Northwestern, among other academic institutions, have taken innovative steps to better prepare engineering graduates for industrial positions. We also studied the German system and came to marvel, as most do, at the extraordinary effectiveness of the Fraunhofer model, where students with the German Diploma Engineer Degreemore or less equivalent to our Masters Degreework in an applied technology institute for several years preparing themselves for industrial employment.
This process is extremely effective and is somewhat analagous to the clinical residency of medical school students that completes the education of a medical doctor. We believe that, for a few of our students, this model could work well, and we intend to use the Fraunhofer Resource Center to implement a test program. Our faculty has recently approved a Doctor of Engineering Degree which will facilitate the application of the German model to our academic culture. But we intend, also, to engage our traditional studentsboth undergraduate and graduatein the work of the Center to provide an opportunity, for at least some of our students, to gain experience in working in an industrial-like environment. We believe that those students who are fortunate enough to participate in this program and the industries that employ them will both benefit.
The second motivation to explore a Fraunhofer-like process is to improve and expand the transfer of technology developed by our faculty and graduate students to industry. We believe that our most effective transfer of technology from the university to industry is through the flow of our graduates from academia to the work place, but there is surely additional value to be gained by the direct transfer of some of the technology itself.
The Fraunhofer Resource Center will serve as an intermediate stage between the rather basic research in which most of our faculty engage and the needs of the industry. Moreover, the Center provides a venue for the faculty to apply their basic technology to actual problems encountered by industry. The co-location of a Fraunhofer Institute and a university, and the participation of students and faculty in applied research, has been shown in Germany to be an extremely effective way to facilitate the transfer of technology from academia to industry. An important additional fringe benefit is the creation of an increased awareness of the faculty to the needs of industry and thus a greater likelihood of the pursuit of relevant basic research.
The initiative has also driven increased levels of interaction between the University of Michigan and industry, and between the U.S. and other Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany.
Representatives of the Fraunhofer Society and the parent Institute in Aachen are currently engaged with us in developing a detailed agreement that will provide the basis for the operation of the partnership. The formation of the Center was enabled by commitment of funds by the Fraunhofer and the state of Michigan to capitalize and operate the Center for its initial five years.
During the initial period, we expect to develop an industrial project support base that will minimize or even eliminate the necessity of subsidy. Already, local industry and our faculty are teaming with Fraunhofer in proposals to federal agencies for technology development and deployment in programs like the Department of Commerces Advanced Technology Program (ATP).
The activities of the Center are guided by a Technical Advisory Board which will meet regularly to advise the Director on technical matters. The board membership is drawn from industry and the university. The interaction with the university is coordinated by a faculty liaison, Professor Elijah Kannety-Asibu. The Center Director reports jointly to the parent Center Director in Aachen and to Fraunhofer-U.S.A., which is located in Ann Arbor. Fraunhofer-U.S.A. is incorporated in the U.S. and governed by a Board of Directors with German and U.S. representation. Fraunhofer-U.S.A. is advised by a National Advisory Council of senior industry executives chaired by Dr. John McTague, Vice President of Ford Motor Company. It is worth noting that Fraunhofer-U.S.A. has several other initiatives in the U.S., in addition to the Laser Processing Center in Ann Arbor.
The partnership between the Fraunhofer and the University of Michigan was initiated to serve U.S. industry through deployment and support of laser processing technologies for manufacturing. The partnership will succeed if, and only if, it serves the needs of private industry effectively. We believe it can, and we are determined to work diligently to achieve that objective.
George Carignan is Associate Dean for Graduate Education and Research of the College of Engineering. The following is adapted from a presentation to the Automotive Laser Applications Workshop, given on March 9, 1995, in Dearborn, Michigan.