Flexibility and Innovation

ISD and Mechanical Engineering Partner to Host NU Manufacturing Scholar at Wu Distinguished Lectureship

ISD and the Department of Mechanical Engineering collaborated on Sept. 9 to host the Wu Distinguished Lectureship, welcoming Dr. Jian Cao of Northwestern University.

Dr. Cao, who is the Cardiss Collins Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director, Northwestern Initiative on Manufacturing Science and Innovation, discussed her recent research and collaborations. The title of her presentation was “Bring Flexibility and Innovation to Manufacturing Processes”. 

The event highlighted the Wu Foundation, which was established in 1993 by Daisy Wu, the widow of Professor Shien-Ming Wu, a former distinguished U-M faculty member and pioneer in the field of manufacturing. The S. M. Wu Foundation hopes to continue Professor Wu’s legacy of excellence in manufacturing research and education.

After the presentation, Dr. Cao took time to discuss some larger trends in the field of manufacturing. 

Below is the lightly edited Q&A:

Where do you see the field of Manufacturing heading over the next 20 years, both here in America and globally?

“Manufacturing will have this joint development between mass (concentrated) production and distributed production modes. Starting from the Henry Ford production model, the consolidated mass production model has its advantages, in terms of production rate and efficiency and the consolidation of resources for development. Meanwhile, it creates supply chain challenges and societal issues associated with mega cities.

With the development of flexible manufacturing processes, machine intelligence, simulation tools, and digital manufacturing in general including the industrial internet, we lower the barriers for having a distributed manufacturing model, which can provide the latest in manufacturing excellence around every corner in America and globally.”   

What do you feel is a blueprint for women to be successful in manufacturing?

“As I mentioned in the talk, I view manufacturing as an integration platform. There are so many aspects surrounding manufacturing that I can hardly say what does not belong to manufacturing. Therefore, the first piece of advice I will give to women is to break the stereotype images about manufacturing. We, women, can and should be a part of manufacturing research and industry.”

What have been some of your favorite experiences of working in collaboration with the University of Michigan?

“I have been working with faculty and students of the University of Michigan on research projects, professional societies, and outreach over the last 25 plus years, with it all being very positive. Therefore, it will be hard to identify my favorites. If I summarize it all into two words, it would be ‘innovative’ and ‘friendly’.”