The United States faces a projected shortage of workers to fill some 4.6 million highly skilled manufacturing jobs over the next decade. Universities have traditionally addressed these gaps through educational programs to prepare talent for immediate needs in jobs that already exist.
But how do we prepare today’s workforce for jobs that don’t even exist yet, or that have yet to be imagined? And how do we develop technology solutions in Missouri to grow our manufacturing sector and keep our high-tech talent in the state?
Those are the two primary challenges Missouri University of Science and Technology plans to address through the Manufacture Missouri Ecosystem (MME), a network of small, medium and large manufacturers across the state.
The MME will enable manufacturers to remain competitive by automating on-demand distributed manufacturing and reducing barriers for new business entry. Through the MME, Missouri S&T and its partner universities and industries in Missouri will provide manufacturers with the research, tools, training and technology manufacturers need to succeed in the highly competitive global economy.
In today’s interconnected knowledge economy, no single entity can accomplish a major task alone. Today’s complex problems require collaboration. Through the MME, Missouri S&T will build on current partnerships with other Missouri colleges and universities to address the state’s manufacturing needs and to provide a broad, statewide pathway to the highly skilled and high-paying jobs of Missouri’s advanced manufacturing future. Moreover, as part of the University of Missouri System, S&T will leverage the talents and expertise of the UM System universities in Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis to create further synergies for the state’s manufacturers. Dozens of manufacturers and governmental agencies in Missouri and elsewhere have bought into the MME concept and are committed to this partnership. They include some of Missouri’s largest employers and many smaller firms that supply key Missouri industries.
The Manufacture Missouri Ecosystem (MME) is a network of small, medium and large manufacturers across the state that connects companies with university expertise to strengthen their global competitiveness. Through the MME, Missouri S&T and its partner universities and industries in Missouri will deliver research knowledge to any partner manufacturer, anywhere in the state.
Hundreds of small and medium-sized companies are spread throughout Missouri’s small towns and urban centers. Many of these smaller firms are key suppliers to the larger companies, but often these smaller firms lack access to the highly skilled workforce they need to be competitive and, equally important, lack the staffing or expertise to conduct the research and development they need to remain competitive. The MME will connect these companies to the knowledge base available through Missouri S&T, our partners in education and industry, and each member of the MME.
Since our founding 150 years ago, Missouri S&T has held true to its land-grant mission of preparing Missourians to solve the technical and manufacturing problems of the times. Whether those problems had to do with extracting minerals from Missouri’s nearby mining district, designing and building the nation’s interstate highway system, developing new materials, or exploring space, Missouri S&T has played a significant role.
That same mission holds true today as Missouri S&T launches into a new era of advanced manufacturing. S&T has the expertise, the location, the educational programs, and the partnerships to make the MME a reality.
Renowned faculty in manufacturing, materials science and engineering, and a broad array of engineering and science programs contribute to Missouri S&T’s reputation as the state’s premier STEM-focused university. S&T’s manufacturing engineering program is truly interdisciplinary and collaborative, involving faculty from five different academic departments (business administration, electrical and computer engineering, engineering management, mechanical and aerospace engineering, and metallurgical engineering).
Built on our distinction as one of the nation’s most comprehensive engineering and science universities, S&T offers Missouri’s only master’s degree in manufacturing engineering. At the undergraduate level, students in mechanical engineering and engineering management may pursue an option in manufacturing, while mechanical engineering undergraduates may pursue an emphasis in manufacturing processes. A focused B.S. degree in manufacturing is under development. Moreover, S&T’s master’s and Ph.D. programs in systems engineering are among the strongest and most innovative in the nation and major Missouri employers, large and small, are long-time supporters of the program.
Although the MME will virtually connect manufacturers from all areas of the state of Missouri, key facilities at the Missouri S&T campus will play an important role in the current and future success of the ecosystem.
Key to the MME’s success is the Missouri Protoplex®, a modern, 223,762-square-foot facility that will serve as the headquarters for the statewide MME. The Protoplex will provide shared space, equipment and technology to enable Missouri manufacturers to create and test prototypes. It will also serve as a space where academia and industry will come together, and where Missouri’s manufacturers, innovators and entrepreneurs collaborate with experts from Missouri S&T and our partner community colleges, universities, companies, and local, state and federal governmental agencies.
For many companies that do not have their own research and development (R&D) infrastructure, the Protoplex will provide shared resources to benefit not only individual companies, but also entire sectors of manufacturing. The Protoplex also is needed to provide space for ongoing manufacturing-related research at S&T in support of federal grants with the U.S. Army and U.S. Department of Energy. These projects address manufacturing process improvements for the steel industry – from the development of lightweight-yet-strong armor for military vehicles to more energy-efficient ways to manufacture steel.
Missouri S&T has secured $50 million in support from the Kummer Institute Foundation to match state, federal or other matching funds for this $104 million construction project. In November 2021, the University of Missouri Board of Curators approved phase 1 of the Protoplex project. The Protoplex also will be the anchor facility for an envisioned manufacturing technology and innovation campus at S&T.
Missouri S&T’s Center for Aerospace Manufacturing Technologies (CAMT) was established in 2004 in partnership with the Air Force Research Labs and Boeing Research and Technology. It serves as a U.S. center of excellence for the development and transition of innovative advanced technologies for the aerospace manufacturing supply chain.
In its pre-production research facility on the Missouri S&T campus, the CAMT provides an array of technologies devoted to advancing manufacturing technology. The center’s R&D efforts create knowledge, methodologies and tools that reduce production costs and lead time, as well as improve quality, reliability and safety in aerospace manufacturing.
Affiliated with the CAMT is its Industrial Consortium, which was formed in 2007 to realize the unique value and importance of CAMT to industry. The goal is for the center’s R&D activities to be directed by and benefit the members of this consortium, which includes many small and medium-sized Missouri manufacturers.
The MME’s success will depend on key partnerships with manufacturers, state and federal agencies, and other academic institutions across Missouri.
Missouri S&T benefits from longstanding partnerships with many manufacturers – most notably through four corsortia that serve as a blueprint for the MME concept.
These consortia connect:
A strong network of talent and expertise for Missouri industries exists because of S&T’s relationships with other educational institutions in the state. These partnerships include the University of Missouri System and S&T’s partner UM System universities in Columbia, Kansas City and St. Louis; a long-standing cooperative engineering program with Missouri State University, and strong partnerships with community colleges throughout the state, including Ozark Technical Community College in Springfield and East Central College, which is based in Union and has a satellite campus in Rolla.
Interested in learning more about the Manufacture Missouri Ecosystem? Contact Dr. Stephen Roberts for more information.
Vice Chancellor of Strategic Initiatives and Chief Operating Officer of the Kummer Institute