For the second year, Explore the New Manufacturing is hosting the Manufacturing Innovation Challenge for high school career and technical education students. Partnering with West Virginia businesses, Manufacturing Innovation Challenge projects give high school teams the opportunity to find solutions to real-world manufacturing problems. Teams tackle existing product problems and develop the application of concept ideas. Each challenge is unique and can come from various aspects of the company's operations. All projects are aligned with West Virginia Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) standards, curriculum, project-based learning efforts, and career exploration programs.
With a business-type approach, student teams navigate the challenge as if they were actual employees. Manufacturing Innovation Challenge teams are expected to work collaboratively, with each member in charge of one aspect of the project. This format helps to reinforce soft critical skills that employers demand from all employees. From team building to problem-solving, students strengthen their self-reliance and confidence as they tackle the challenge.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway comes in the form of communication skills. Within the team, efficient communication is critical on three levels. As a group, the students need to utilize clear communication techniques to ensure they remain on task. They must also interact professionally with their manufacturing partners. For many students, this is the first time they are faced with engaging potential employers. The final communication skill students must tackle is public speaking. Each team is required to make two presentations. The first is a formal presentation where the students discuss their roles, recommendations, and potential solutions to their manufacturing partners. In the second presentation, the teams must adapt their formal presentation into a fun, informative talk designed to get middle school students excited and interested in pursuing career and technical education opportunities.
Last spring, thirteen Tri-County Robotics students from the James Rumsey Technical Institute (JRTI) participated in a Manufacturing Innovation Challenge project sponsored by Quad Graphics (Inwood, WV).The challenge required the students to develop a robotic visual inspection of magazine covers to provide quality control on key areas like the width of the color borders, specifically, the icon yellow of the National Geographic magazine.
In preparation for the challenge, the students were given an in-depth virtual tour of Quad Graphics' Inwood facility.After talking with employees to understand the logistics involved, the students spent the next ten weeks designing and building a prototype which would successfully serve as an automated inspection system.
"I was very impressed with the solution that the student team developed. I absolutely could see the sensors and software that they presented being incorporated on our line," commented Darren Smallwood, who works in Finishing Technical Development/Automation at Quad Graphics.
Jessie Butcher, JRTI Robotics Instructor, believes that her students gain valuable experience by working with manufacturers on a real-world challenge. "My students have truly enjoyed the project and have continued working today on the next steps without my further prompting.They are so excited," said Jessie.
The goal with all Explore the New Manufacturing programming is to build working relationships that allow educators and manufacturers to help middle and high school students discover new interests and career goals. For more information on the Explore the New Manufacturing program, visit www.exploremfgwv.com.
Interested in learning more about the Manufacturing Innovation Challenges? Send an email to