WHEN one thinks of manufacturing, it is often the conventional image of production operators that comes to mind — each at a designated place in the assembly line, concentrating on labour-intensive task-based activities.
However, manufacturing is more than transforming raw materials into products. It involves manufacturing engineering, which requires the ability to plan the practices of manufacturing; conduct research and develop tools, processes, machines and equipment; as well as integrate the facilities and systems for producing quality products at optimum expenditure.
With the Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) taking place, Universiti Teknikal Malaysia Melaka (UTeM) Faculty of Manufacturing Engineering dean Associate Professor Dr Zamberi Jamaludin said manufacturing or production engineering is experiencing change as real production merges with the virtual world.
“Technologies like the Internet of Things, data analytics and artificial intelligence have brought a revolution to the industry. Here, information technology is incorporated into the production processes, hence all conventional systems communicate with one another in an intelligent way,” he said.
“Previously, when there was a change in (production) demand, any process change in an assembly line was hard to implement. Now with machines communicating with each other as well as the manager and planner, changes can be made through programming with the use of sensors and RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips so that the production line won’t be interrupted,” Zamberi said.
“In Malaysia, those implementing these elements are multinational companies like Siemens. To be at that level, we must have a skilled workforce.
“But to make this happen, knowledge in advanced manufacturing must grow hand in hand with the industry’s desire to progress in tandem with the trends. Our manufacturing industry is still very much labour-intensive as it is concerned with foreign labours and issues they come with.
“If we can upgrade our expertise in the industry with a drive from companies to invest in new technologies that can be applied for their benefit, we can build local expertise for advanced manufacturing and skilled workforce. UTeM is willing to partner them in this process,” said Zamberi.
The manufacturing sector contributes between 20 and 30 per cent to the gross national product (GNP). Generally, as a nation’s manufacturing activity increases, it will improve the standard of living of its populace.
Priding itself as the only university with a dedicated faculty for manufacturing engineering in the country that was established in 2001, Zamberi said UTeM was working towards providing the workforce with the knowledge and skills, as well as new technologies that could boost the industry to become more competitive and propel the manufacturing sector to greater heights.
“Manufacturing engineering is a branch of engineering that requires knowledge, practical skills and experience to fully grasp, exploit and control all the engineering techniques in the manufacturing process and methods of producing products. This includes mechanical, and electrical and electronics engineering knowledge.
“It also requires aptitude to plan for manufacturing methods, as well as the ability to combine facilities and systems in the intention of producing cost-effective products more feasibly. Most recently, we have embedded elements in the forms of knowledge and skills that support the implementation of IR4.0 into the curriculum,” he said.
The academic programmes offered by UTeM include diploma and bachelor degrees in Manufacturing Engineering and Industrial Engineering, as well as post-graduate degrees, such as Master of Science, Master of Engineering, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Engineering Doctorate.
“The Manufacturing Engineering Programme is developed to instil a strong engineering foundation so that graduates are proficient in solving manufacturing engineering-related problems. This will ensure graduates of manufacturing engineering can function effectively in their future career as a materials engineer, process engineer, design engineer, robotics engineer, industrial automation engineer and quality engineer,” said Zamberi.
In terms of research and development, he said the faculty worked with the industry through smart manufacturing collaborations.
“Among our industry partners in this area is German semiconductor company Infineon and Japanese multinational imaging product company Konica Minolta with which we have collaborations through UTeM’s Advanced Manufacturing Centre. Not only do these partnerships boost UTeM’s image, but they also give students opportunities to be exposed to industrial problems that require high-level thinking skills.
“Other than that, we invite top managers from the industry to give talks to encourage and inspire students. Our students will be up to date with the latest industrial trends and needs.”
Zamberi said there was a positive outlook in manufacturing engineering, particularly with the advent of IR4.0.
“With quality guaranteed education and excellent industrial linkages, UTeM hopes to make Malaysia a strong player in the field of smart manufacturing,” he said.