Letter from the Department Head: A Manufacturing Renaissance
Manufacturing has consistently been an integral part of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. From the innovative research into metal cutting and machine tool design by professors Milton Shaw and Nathan Cook in the 1950s and ‘60s, through Nam Suh’s establishment of the MIT-Industry Polymer Processing Program in the 1970s and the foundation of the Laboratory for Manufacturing and Productivity (LMP) in 1977, the department has long been devoted to exploring new frontiers in manufacturing research.
Today, we continue this tradition by offering a Master of Engineering in Manufacturing (MEngM), a degree that produces technically exceptional leaders for industry, and by offering an unparalleled number of hands-on learning and research opportunities for all our students.
Manufacturing stands at the crossroads of innovation, design, and commerce. Core engineering principles can be brought to bear to invent and improve manufacturing processes, but the ever-changing commercial demands of manufacturing also create opportunities to expand fundamental knowledge in engineering. This mutually beneficial relationship between research and commerce propels both industry and academia forward.
As a department, we teach product design and manufacturing in the spirit of MIT’s motto, mens et manus. Students are asked to fabricate tools and products in a variety of courses, such as Toy Product Design (2.00b), Design and Manufacturing I and II (2.007 and 2.008), Product Design and Development (2.739 and 2.009), Precision Machine Design (2.75), Elements of Mechanical Design (2.72), Engineering Systems Development (2.014), and Manufacturing Processes and Systems (2.810). The products they produce in these classes are effective solutions to real markets and problems, and in many cases go on to be produced commercially. This focus on building our tools and designs is a hallmark of mechanical engineering education.
Our commitment to improving manufacturing extends beyond the department. On the Institute level, MIT President Susan Hockfield has created an interdisciplinary commission called Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) to evaluate production capabilities in domestic manufacturing. Professors David Hardt, Sanjay Sarma and I serve on this commission. On a national level, when President Barack Obama called for the creation of a partnership between universities and industry to spark a “renaissance in American manufacturing,” he recognized MIT’s leadership in this field by appointing Susan Hockfield as the co-chair.
In this issue, we highlight the reciprocal relationship between manufacturing research and commerce. You will read about the challenges posed by manufacturing on the nano-scale and the innovative solutions that allow for the fabrication of increasingly smaller devices and tools. We also present novel approaches to making existing manufacturing “better”—lowering defect rates, designing more efficient tools, improving automation and controls, identifying new and better-suited materials from which to build, and determining how to increase energy efficiency and reduce emissions through the entire lifecycle of a product.
For more information on our faculty’s areas of research focus, I invite you to visit our new interactive faculty grid at http://meche.mit.edu/people/cloud.
Mary C. Boyce, Ford Professor of Engineering and Department Head