Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) is launching the Industry 4.0 Center of Excellence this fall with Mark Yoss at the helm.

Yoss, director of MSU Denver’s Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute, worked in manufacturing at Lockheed Martin for 36 years before moving into academia.

While the Industry 4.0 Center of Excellence is launching in late 2022, the concept has roots in conversations between former MSU President Dr. Stephen Jordan and several manufacturing stakeholders that began in 2014.

CompanyWeek: What is the Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute as well as the Industry 4.0 Center of Excellence? How did both arise?

Mark Yoss: The story goes back to when I was still employed at Lockheed Martin. I worked there in their production organization, and Dr. [Stephen] Jordan, the president of the university at the time, had been to Washington, D.C., and heard this report that there were going to be 2.1 million unfilled manufacturing jobs. So he came back to Colorado, went on a listening tour, and wound up hearing what my boss [Dennis Little], the vice president of production, had to say at the time and hit on a relationship. We needed manufacturing engineers and test engineers, and the school had mechanical engineering technology and electrical engineering technology — more hands-on programs that were better aligned to our needs than somebody with a theoretical degree.

That allowed us to start to influence this new curriculum. The Advanced Manufacturing Sciences four-year baccalaureate degree came out of that conversation, and, oh, by the way, let’s put in an Advanced Manufacturing Sciences Institute around it with a donation from Lockheed Martin of $1 million. $500,000 bought a state-of-the-art 3D printer and the other $500,000 is generating interest off of that principal for me to manage the program.

I hit 60 in 2021 and was eligible to retire, so I took a 90-day retirement, skied 26 days, and then started the new role here in April 2021.

CW: I understand the center is kicking off this fall. What is happening in the next year at the center?

MY: A little backstory: Digital transformation is the umbrella term that’s being thrown around when you’re trying to implement Industry 4.0 technologies. That list, besides additive printing, it’s got robotics and augmented and virtual reality and artificial intelligence and cloud computing — there’s a whole list — but the reality is 80 percent of digital transformation projects are failing and companies just aren’t able to do it on their own to implement some of this capability. So our vision is to crack the code here on the campus, companies can then come see how it’s been done, work with some of our students to see how the technology works, take some of the students with them back to their home shops and implement it, and ideally it turns out the student is a good fit with them and winds up getting a job out of it.

Here in the first phase, I have a whole list of technologies, but the first technology we’re going after is digital twins and augmented reality. We’re going to purchase some software or partner with a software company and be able to take some hollow-lens glasses, put those on any student or any new employee, and they can stand in front of a CNC machine or a 3D printer and all the instructions on how to operate that machine are right there in the glasses. Now it’s real-time training — you no longer have to take the time to do on-the-job training and buddy them up with somebody and take them away from a productive job.

CW: Why do you think that 80 percent of digital transformation projects at manufacturers are failing?

MY: There are three different reasons. One is the technology just doesn’t work as advertised. The second is the implementation leaves the scene of the crime before they’ve got a fully built-out pilot, and the people that were left to use the new technology don’t have the skills to be able to make it work. And the last one is it works, but you’ve just got to keep throwing more money at it. It’s one of these shiny new rocks that you just didn’t realize how much effort it was going to take to get it shiny.

CW: What can be realized when digital transformation is successful? What were your experiences at Lockheed Martin with the company’s Digital Tapestry?

MY: The summary level is 30 percent faster and cheaper. I can tell you, though, at Lockheed Martin, they had some instances where it was upwards of 80 to 90 percent faster, and when you do it faster, it’s obviously less cost. The number that an augmented reality software provider would say is 30 percent, but I would say that’s still pretty conservative.

CW: What is the timeline for getting into other technologies at the center after augmented reality?

MY: I had a belief that I could go back to the state for this collaborative industry grant annually, but it turns out that you can only go back once — you can only go there twice — so my second phase is going to have to be a little bigger bite than the first phase now that I understand the rules.

The vision is to be able to monetize this. That’s one of the strategic challenges of our university president, Dr. [Janine] Davidson, to blur the lines between the campus and the community and monetize some of our capabilities. If I could come up with some kind of a fee structure and companies could come to us and see how these technologies work and they’ll pay us for that knowledge, that can help me build out the future phases.

The next technologies we would go after are the ones that manufacturing companies need most. We just need to survey them and find out, “Is it robotics? Is it 3D printing? Is it just around Big Data?”

CW: Where is this all going to take place?

MY: We don’t need to build any more infrastructure around the building. We’ve got two labs here at the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences Building — the additive lab and the subtractive lab — and they have the machines that we’re going to build these 3D experiences around.

We partnered with the University of Colorado Denver and the Community College of Denver on this grant proposal with OEDIT [Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade], and the vision is a Center of Excellence on the Auraria Campus. The other two institutions will do the same thing. They’ve got their machines, but because we’ve got cloud computing, they can use the software and can develop the same kinds of augmented reality experiences that companies can come and see how their machines are different from our machines.

CW: Is there any call to action you’d like to put out to readers of CompanyWeek?

MY: We’ve actually got a concept paper that we’re rolling into the sales pitch, the request for dollars under our Roadrunners Rising campaign. The way the grant with the state works is you have to come with two times the amount you want to ask for, so this first round we had $270,00 in hand to get us the $135,000.

Photos courtesy MSU Denver

If we can get some companies out there that would help build up that matching fund basket when we go back for round two, then that’s going to help us be able to ask for more money from the state.

CW: Anything else to add, Mark?

MY: We’re up against some challenging perceptions when people hear the term, “manufacturing.” A lot of people think for the four Ds of dirty, dull, dumb, dangerous, and we want to change those perceptions and say, “We’re going to replace those four Ds with the fifth of digital.”

We need smart people who are going to be able to implement these challenging technologies, and it’s changing the way manufacturing works, so it’s not that old stereotypical vision, but this new vision of a smart factory.

Eric Peterson is editor of CompanyWeek. Email him at epeterson@companyweek.com.

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