Paving the Way for Industry 4.0


The term might be new, but Industry 4.0 is something Penn State’s been doing for a long, long time

The term Industry 4.0 was coined relatively recently. Most credit it to the 2011 Hannover Messe, the eminent trade fair in Germany that focuses on building automation and technology, along with materials, robotics and additive manufacturing systems. But even though people have been using the label Industry 4.0 to describe ongoing automation of traditional manufacturing and industrial practices using modern smart technology for less than 10 years, it’s not at all a new idea. It’s something that Penn State has been doing for more than a century. 

The university has a long history of science and engineering research that has propelled industry forward. A recent NSF study ranks Penn State in the top 10 in research expenditures in materials science, mechanical & materials engineering and industrial & manufacturing engineering. And the men and women behind that research have been a catalyst for industrial automation and smart technology innovations around the world long before the term Industry 4.0 was ever coined.

Let’s take a look at some of the ways Penn State has paved the way for Innovation 4.0, both here in Happy Valley and around the globe. 

Pioneering Engineering and Materials

In 1907, the Department of Engineering Mechanics and Materials of Construction (now called Engineering Science and Mechanics) was established, beginning Penn State's foray into materials research. The establishment of the Metallurgy program quickly followed in 1908, with the Ceramic Science program added in 1923. By then, Penn State was making a name for itself as a pioneer among American universities in materials research.

Today Penn State has thoroughly earned its moniker “Materials Valley” and is home to the Millennium Science Complex (MSC) on campus – a $225 million, 275,600-square-foot science building that hosts a convergence of engineering, physical science and life sciences. It’s one of the first buildings in the U.S. specifically constructed to support the integration of the physical and life sciences. 

In addition to its state-of-the-art laboratories and instruments, the MSC pioneers a new style of research in which experts in certain fields can collaborate on technology and research to produce advances. A perfect example of this kind of expert collaboration can be seen with Penn State’s partnership with Morgan Advanced Materials

Morgan, a global leader in materials science, based its Carbon Science Centre of Excellence (CoE) just off campus in Innovation Park because of Penn State’s materials pedigree and penchant for getting research out into industrial fields. Together, Penn State and Morgan are researching manufacturing/wear optimization of resin-bonded composites with graphene nanofillers – something that will have significant impact on a wide range of commercial products. 

Diesel Engine Discoveries 

As early as 1923, Paul Schweitzer and K. J. Dejuhasz were researching ways to automate and revolutionize diesel engineering. Their discoveries over the next 30 years in such fields as supercharging and scavenging pioneered the way for today’s more efficient and powerful engines.

Energy Efficiency Standards in Industrial Materials

Paving the way for energy-efficient insulation in smart machines (and a charter member of “Materials Valley”), Everett Shuman proposed R Values as standardized measures of resistance to heat transfer in 1945. R Values were later widely applied to industrial and residential insulating materials, making energy efficiency possible for consumers. 

First Electronic Computer

Penn State’s first contribution to electronic computing was thanks to the work of Haskell Brooks Curry, an expert on symbolic logic. He worked on the first electronic computer, called ENIAC, while on leave from Penn State during World War II. Curry’s research in the 1950s into the foundations of combinatory logic was applied in 1986 in the Mitre Corporation’s Curry Chip, an innovative piece of computer hardware based on Curry’s concept of “combinators.”  Later, this seminal work found significant application in computer science, especially in the design of programming languages.

Developing Defense Technologies

Created at the request of the U.S. Navy during the height of WWII, the Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) at Penn State is a key developer of guidance and control technologies for undersea systems and vehicles, accomplishes prototyping of novel power and energy systems and performs state of the art research in the area of computational fluid dynamics. In 2018, The U.S. Navy awarded ARL the largest research contract in the university’s history – worth as much as $2.1 billion over 10 years – to conduct research and development to improve U.S. national security. 

First Surgically Implantable Heart Pump

In 1974, a long-life rechargeable heart pacemaker was developed at The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center with assistance from College of Engineering personnel. The Heart Assist Pump, developed by faculty in the colleges of medicine and engineering in 1976 to prolong the lives of cardiovascular patients, pioneered applications of fluid mechanics and was the first surgically implantable, seam-free, pulsatile blood pump to receive widespread clinical use. It led to the Penn State Heart, first successfully implanted in 1985. Also, a surgeon and two engineers at Penn State perfected the world’s first long-life, rechargeable heart pacemaker.

Pioneering Additive Materials in Partnership with Major Corporations

In 2012, the Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D) launched, quickly becoming a world-class resource for advancing and deploying additive manufacturing technology. Working in partnership with ARL, the center serves as the Additive Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (AMDF) under the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency's (DARPA) Open Manufacturing Program and is the Metals Node of America Makes, formerly the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII). 

CIMP-3D works with companies like Lockheed Martin, who has supported dozens of Penn State research programs totaling more than $6 million. In one such project, Lockheed Martin tasked students in Introduction to Design Engineering to leverage additive manufacturing to solve new problems or redesign existing solutions in areas like heat exchangers, shock absorbers, wire connectors and USB hub mounting brackets.

As the Industry 4.0 continues to make headlines, look for mention of Penn State. Its people and ideas are at the forefront, disrupting the status quo and innovating for tomorrow, from right here in Happy Valley. 



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