Pitt | Swanson Engineering
News Listing

Mar

Mar
1
2021

Pitt’s Manufacturing Assistance Center Expands to Pitt Titusville and Partners with Conturo Prototyping in Homewood

Industrial, Office of Development & Alumni Affairs, Diversity

PITTSBURGH (March 1, 2021) … In a strategic move to adapt to the economic challenges of COVID-19 while providing greater reach and more flexible programming, the University of Pittsburgh’s Manufacturing Assistance Center (MAC) will expand its program to Pitt’s Titusville campus while launching a new hands-on partnership with Conturo Prototyping LLC in Homewood. The restructuring extends the MAC’s career training and placement program to prospective students in Crawford and surrounding countries, and links with Conturo Prototyping to continue to provide the hands-on curriculum to students in Homewood. Remote learning will still be provided from the MAC’s current home location at 7800 Susquehanna Street, and eventually extended to the Community Engagement Center (CEC) in Homewood and the Hill District CEC . Additionally, the curriculum will be made more accessible for working students by front-loading the three-week computer-based sessions, followed by a three-week machine program. Since many of the MAC’s students are adult learners with different time constraints than traditional students, the shift to a 50-50 hybrid model and compressed curriculum will be more accessible. “This restructuring is an exciting urban-rural partnership that will expand the reach of the University of Pittsburgh in a meaningful way,” said Dr. Catherine Koverola , Pitt-Titusville president. “We look forward to continuing to work with all of our hub partners to bring to fruition this innovative educational model, which will help to meet the education and workforce needs of our neighbors in the Titusville region.” Bopaya Bidanda , co-founder of the MAC and department chair of industrial engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, explained that COVID-19 required a reimagination of the MAC’s day-to-day operations by integrating virtual learning with the instruction of competitive manufacturing skills. “There continues to be a pressing need for advanced manufacturing training both in the city and across Pennsylvania’s rural counties, especially those surrounding Pitt’s Titusville campus. By streamlining our delivery system, we can reach more students while operating more efficiently within our resource constraints,” Bidanda said. “COVID-19 created a financial hardship for our operating model and so pivoting to an online curriculum and a shorter, intensified hands-on component allows us to reformat the MAC, serve a greater population, and more quickly get our graduates in front of employer demand.” Bidanda added that the MAC will be another strong component for the Titusville Education and Training Hub and further support workforce training in Crawford and surrounding counties. The University in 2018 began its transition of the Titusville campus to a community-focused resource with a combination of traditional college courses and vocational training, with both academic and corporate partners. The MAC’s new partnership with Conturo Prototyping, according to company founder and Swanson School alumnus John Conturo, helps to solve three obstacles: maintaining the MAC’s presence in Homewood; providing accessible training for communities east of the City; and addressing the “skills gap” in the machining and manufacturing industries. “Over the past few decades there has been a sharp decrease in the number of individuals pursuing trades rather than a traditional 4-year degree, especially in manufacturing. Because of this, the skills gap is making it difficult to keep up with demand for precision parts and machining services. If the workforce to address that demand doesn't exist, we need to create it,” Conturo explained. Indeed, Conturo and his company were planning on developing their own advanced training facility and curriculum until he learned that a partnership with the MAC would address public, private, and community needs. “I’ve employed a handful of MAC students, so I know the quality of students that come out of the program. By creating this partnership with the MAC, I can expand to a new facility in Homewood to accommodate more full-time staff and resources; absorb the classes currently offered; provide more advanced resources for hands-on training in a state-of-the-art facility; and provide a stronger, successful resource for Homewood and surrounding communities.” Lina Dostilio , associate vice chancellor for community engagement, noted that Pitt’s Community Engagement Centers (CECs) will be an important resource that was unavailable when the MAC relocated to Homewood from Harmar Township in 2018. “The CECs will lift some of the burden from the MAC’s operational structure,” she explained. “We can help to market the MAC to prospective students, especially in the city’s underserved neighborhoods, and will include virtual programming through our CEC in the Hill’s Digital Inclusion Center. The delivery of the online interface, any proctoring or office hours, and educational support will still be led by the MAC.” Bidanda noted that most student costs are absorbed through external funding, including grants, workforce redevelopment funds, trade adjustment, and the GI Bill. The MAC’s placement rate for graduates is a healthy 95%. James R. Martin II , U.S. Steel Dean of Engineering at Pitt, emphasized that this new model maintains the MAC’s mission and Pitt’s commitment to the communities it serves while addressing employer demand for workforce manufacturing skills. “The strength of a major university like Pitt is its ability to see beyond traditional academics and research to support the people who live in its communities and to provide lifelong learning skills,” Martin said. “Engineering in particular, which throughout history has helped people develop tools and new learning that then advance society, is the perfect conduit for connecting people with the knowledge they need to advance their own lives. The disruption caused by COVID-19 has forced academia and industry alike to regroup and develop new programs that address the needs of the communities we serve. I am incredibly proud of how the MAC, Dr. Koverola, the CECs, and John have come together to develop what I think will be a stronger program than when we started.  This is a win-win all around.” ### About Conturo Prototyping LLCConturo Prototyping is a precision manufacturing company located in the East End. With a specialty in producing complex machined components, Conturo plays a vital role in the local technology ecosystem by providing parts for autonomous vehicles, cutting edge robotics, moon landers and much much more.  The business was founded in 2016 by Pittsburgh native, John Conturo after he graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Since inception, the enterprise has experienced rapid growth and now occupies 17,000 sq ft with a staff of 21 full time machinists, engineers, technicians and administrators across both of locations in Pittsburgh, PA and Boston, MA.

Feb

Feb
10
2021

Origami Powered by Light

Industrial, MEMS

PITTSBURGH (Feb. 10, 2021) — If you watch the leaves of a plant long enough, you may see them shift and turn toward the sunlight through the day. It happens slowly, but surely. Some man-made materials can mimic this slow but steady reaction to light energy, usually triggered by lasers or focused ambient light. New research from the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University has discovered a way to speed up this effect enough that its performance can compete against electrical and pneumatic systems. “We wanted to create machines where light is the only source of energy and direction,” explained M. Ravi Shankar, professor of industrial engineering and senior author of the paper. “The challenge is that while we could get some movement and actuation with light-driven polymers, it was too slow of a response to be practical.” When the polymer sheet is flat, the light animates it slowly, curving or curling over time. The researchers found that by forming the polymer into a curved shape, like a shell, the bending action happened much more quickly and generated more torque. “If you want to move something, like flip a switch or move a lever, you need something that will react quickly and with enough power,” said Shankar, who holds a secondary appointment in mechanical engineering and materials science. “We found that by applying a mechanical constraint to the material by confining it along on the edges, and embedding judiciously thought-out arrangements of molecules, we can upconvert a slow response into something that is more impulsive.” The researchers used a photoresponsive azobenzene-functionalized liquid crystalline polymer (ALCP) film that is 50 micrometers thick and several millimeters in width and length. A shell-like geometry was created by confining this material along its edges to create a curve. Shining light on this geometry folds the shell at a crease that spontaneously nucleates. This folding occurs within tens of milliseconds and generates torque densities of up to 10 newton-meters per kilogram (10Nm/kg). The light driven response is magnified by about three orders-of-magnitude in comparison to the material that was flat. “The outcomes of the project are very exciting because it means that we can create light powered actuators that are competitive with electrical actuators,” said Kaushik Dayal, coauthor and professor of civil and environmental engineering at CMU. “Our approach towards scaling up the performance of light-driven polymers could reinvent the design of fully untethered soft robots with numerous technological applications,” added lead author and post-doctoral researcher at CMU Mahnoush Babaei. The paper, "Torque-dense Photomechanical Actuation,” (DOI: 10.1039/D0SM01352H) was published in the journal Soft Matter.
Maggie Pavlick