$4.4 million investment will expand metals-based outreach programs at Penn State

Researchers at Behrend and University Park will lead the Department of Defense-supported initiative
People work around a table covered in tools and metal

A new partnership with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation and the Department of Defense will support metals-based manufacturing outreach programs at Penn State's Behrend and University Park campuses. The initiative will include public workshops, including this program at Penn State Behrend's annual STEAM Fair.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

ERIE, Pa. — The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) and the Department of Defense will invest $4.4 million in several metals-based manufacturing programs at Penn State’s Behrend and University Park campuses, where researchers are creating workforce development programs that will strengthen the U.S. metal casting and forging industries.

The three-year initiative — the Metallurgical Engineering Trades Apprenticeship and Learning program, or METAL — is an effort to address a shortage of skilled labor in the manufacturing sector. Nearly one-fourth of the manufacturing workforce is aged 55 years or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. By 2030, more than 2 million manufacturing jobs will be unfilled, according to the Manufacturing Institute.

That lack of skilled workers is a concern for the Department of Defense, which relies heavily on cast and forged equipment. The department has identified a need for at least 122,000 mission-critical manufacturing personnel by 2028.

“The foundational building blocks for all manufacturing start with metal,” said Joannie Harmon, vice president of workforce development at IACMI. “Fostering development of an industrial-base workforce and ensuring the right skill sets are available — from skilled trades on the shop floor through doctoral-level engineering capabilities in a research setting — is vital to national security.”

The METAL program will build on Pennsylvania’s manufacturing base: Metal casting supports more than 30,000 jobs in the commonwealth, according to the American Foundry Society. Those workers generate more than $6.7 billion in annual economic output.

Paul C. Lynch, an associate professor of industrial engineering and a faculty member in the Master of Manufacturing Management program at Penn State Behrend, will lead the METAL program at Penn State. As a member of the project’s steering committee, he will work with a team of Penn State colleagues to develop a variety of metals-focused manufacturing teaching programs, including:

  • Workshops and outreach events for K-12 students
  • Hands-on manufacturing “boot camps” for students 18 and older
  • Certificate and apprenticeship programs
  • An online curriculum in metal manufacturing

Mark Rubeo, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Behrend, will assist with the metals-manufacturing teaching programs. He also will provide guidance on post-processing techniques for castings and forgings and their effects on material microstructures and mechanical properties.

Two faculty members in the College of Engineering at Penn State’s University Park campus also will contribute to the METAL program. Robert Voigt, a professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, will assist with the teaching programs, with a special emphasis on apprenticeship and potential certificate programs. Guha Manogharan, the Emmert H. Bashore Faculty Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering and co-director of CIMP-3D, will develop digital manufacturing modules, including 3D sand-printing and AR/VR augmented learning programs.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee will work collaboratively with the Penn State team, providing additional support. Jobs for the Future, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to creating career pathways for low-wage workers, will help to develop the apprenticeship programs.

The METAL program will directly support Behrend’s Project RESOLVE, a 10-year regional effort to shift the metal manufacturing, plastics and transportation industries to a circular economic model that reduces pollution in and near the region’s freshwater resources, including Lake Erie. A planned Center for Manufacturing Competitiveness will include labs for metal casting and additive manufacturing — an innovation “sandbox” where University researchers and industry partners can test new techniques.

“We want to inspire the next generation to pursue careers in metal manufacturing,” Lynch said. “The ultimate goal is to position the Pennsylvania metals industry to be competitive in both the national and international marketplaces, and to keep family-sustaining jobs here in the United States, including here in the Erie region.”