Ohio University

Technological innovation grant will create virtual factory for apprenticeship training model

Published: March 1, 2021 Author: Jessica Steele

A team of Ohio University professors will create a virtual factory for an apprenticeship training model, thanks to a new grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.

The team is led by Dr. Jesús Pagán, an associate professor in the Russ College of Engineering and Technology. This grant awarded Pagán and his team $295,643 toward their project that aims to benefit the Appalachian region of Ohio and will promote accessible career-oriented training. 

This project’s purpose is to create a virtual factory for an apprenticeship training model where students can receive a professional level experience using digital tools without the expense of a physical factory. Pagán and his team, including Dr. Yuqiu You and Dr. Gursel Suer of the Russ College of Engineering and Technology, have the goal to use this new technology to accelerate workforce development training for the Appalachian region while meeting and exceeding industry recognized credentials.

Ohio University is collaborating with the Appalachian Ohio Manufacturers Coalition on the project. Students and employers will greatly benefit from this program, with one of the main benefits being Ohio University’s ability to provide virtual access to equipment in automation, robotics, machines and other resources in an industrial remote environment. 

“This industry is moving forward with changes in technology and it is also being affected by COVID-19. Our project will be providing a platform for easy integration of tools which will allow the manufacturing community to plan, deploy and optimize systems in a virtual environment before or while development and implementation are being executed,” Pagán said. “Training of a workforce that is able to work in this environment will be a crucial part of the transformation process. Our team is working to implement some of these tools in an environment that allow the engineers, programmers and operators to interact with machines in a virtual factory.”

This technology will allow students entering the workforce to receive high-level training from virtually anywhere. Although, according to Pagán, the need for this type of software was already there, “COVID-19 has accelerated the implementation and use of digital tools in order to solve manufacturing issues.”

Not only will students be able to utilize this program to gain professional experience, they will be able to do so at their own pace. 

“This semester more than ever, with reduced lab time and virtual learning, having a virtual factory is an absolute game changer,” said Benjamin Shuster, a senior at Ohio University studying Engineering Technology and Management. “After having the opportunity, pre-COVID-19, to tour manufacturing plants and other similar factories. I can truly understand just how much value this can bring to students by interacting with equipment and learning firsthand how modern tools are integrated together across a plant.”

Pagán’s project will target eight counties in Southeast Ohio to leverage existing infrastructure and develop virtual assets that can strengthen workforce learning.  

“The region we are targeting is falling behind in the engineering industry despite economic development efforts. This program has been designed to create opportunities for the underserved Appalachian region by providing access and unique resources to those stepping into and working in the industry,” Pagán said.