The Smart Path

ISD students gain a highly competitive, 360-degree advantage through this new, innovative and hands-on Smart Additive Manufacturing master’s pathway

Dr. Chinedum Okwudire had an innovative idea.

The year was 2018 and the Additive Manufacturing (AM) industry was experiencing phenomenal growth as a $9 billion market projected to become a $36 billion market in 2024. GM and other industry partners were telling Dr. Okwudire they needed engineers who understand the different facets of AM, their relationships to smart technologies that are shaping the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0), and how to integrate them together to deliver innovative solutions to meet industry needs.

AM, also known as 3D printing, is a transformative approach to industrial production that enables the creation of lighter, stronger parts, and systems. Advantages are advanced time-to-market turnaround, savings on tooling costs with on-demand 3D printing, reduced waste, improved lives, and weight savings of complex part designs.

Dr. Chinedum Okwudire, Associate Professor, Mechanical Engineering, and Associate Professor, Integrative Systems + Design, College of Engineering, worked closely with a team of U-M faculty to create the Smart Additive Manufacturing master’s pathway to explore and connect topics more deeply. Faculty included Dan Cooper, Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Kazu Saitou, Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Kevin Field, Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences; and Kira Barton, Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the Robotics Institute.

“Our industry partners demand employees who really understand the theory and practice of Smart Additive Manufacturing,” he said.

ISD Is the Way Forward

Dr. Okwudire chose ISD as the perfect launchpad for the new master’s pathway. So he joined ISD as Associate Chair in 2019 and became the pathway’s primary lead.

“ISD is the ideal place,” he said. “AM is a multidisciplinary area requiring the integration of several disciplines. ISD’s courses are truly integrative and that is the hallmark of what ISD and this new pathway are all about. ISD’s master’s programs are also focused on preparing students for industry”

With guidance from industry partners, the master’s pathway began in January 2021 with 20 students from nine different departments and three colleges. The leading course provides foundational knowledge and builds skills in smart additive manufacturing, and introduces various aspects of experiential learning. It focuses on five key AM modules: AM Workflow, Processes and Applications, Lifecycle Economic and Environmental Costing for AM, Design and Verification for AM, Materials Fundamentals for AM, and Monitoring, Diagnostics and Control for AM, all with emphasis on practice. Hands-on labs and industrial case studies are used to reinforce the course material.

The five modules are tightly coordinated, cohesive, and taught by a different instructor, allowing instructors to share their specific expertise. The instructors are affiliated with four different academic units.

The core piece of the foundational course is an innovative, hands-on lab for in-person instruction.

Remote ISD students receive a new 3D printer for true hands-on learning from the convenience of their home. Dr. Okwudire said he does not know of another additive manufacturing program that delivers 3D printers to students at their home.

“We pride ourselves on hybrid learning for both our residential and online students,” he said. “Remote students have the same experiential learning as in-person students.”

Another major outcome is students receive a highly sought after 360-degree view of Smart Additive Manufacturing.

“Industry hiring managers are looking for engineers who can understand different vantage points of AM,” Dr. Okwudire said. “By taking this pathway, students will become more desirable to industry because they will understand how to see the whole picture and how these different aspects come together to create effective solutions.”


With more than 10 months experience, Dr. Okwudire believes the new master’s pathway is a success for both faculty and students.

“We are experiencing the joy of teamwork among faculty,” he said. “Working together with faculty from different departments to create this pathway with the right theme, right integration, and right coordination has worked out very well.”

Faculty agree.

“We took the challenges in remote offering and turned into the opportunities for experimenting with new online pedagogy, including at-home FDM (Fused Deposition Modeling) printers loaned to each student, cloud-based generative design, and instant feedback to questions by Slack,” said Kazuhiro Saitou, PhD, Professor, Mechanical Engineering. “We are confident the course matched and, in some aspects, exceeded the learning experiences for in-person offering.”

Kevin Field, Associate Professor of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences, said one of the best parts of the course was co-teaching the course with colleagues across the college. 

“They brought their individual expertise to each module meaning the course incorporated some of the latest developments around smart additive manufacturing and it also meant that as a faculty member I also got to learn from them alongside our students,” he said. “Many might think co-teaching is a detriment, but when executed well like was done in this course, it elevated the course past the learning experiences found in a single instructor classroom.”

ISD students love the new pathway.

“It is a very modern field that involves many different disciplines throughout engineering and can significantly impact almost every industry,” said Bret Nichols, an Aerospace MSE student who took the Smart Additive Manufacturing foundation course this past winter. “I know, without a doubt, I will use what I learned about the possibilities and limitations of the technology combined with its economical practicality.”

Rana Dabaja, a PhD Student, Department of Mechanical Engineering, said the MFG 599 foundational course was one of the best, most practical she has taken as a U-M graduate.

“The class was a combination of hands-on learning and theoretical work covering different aspects of AM,” Dabaja said. “The professors really took the time to help us understand the concepts and apply them to real-world problems. I am confident I can apply this knowledge to my future work.”

Keeping on the Right Path

ISD has collaborated with and received generous support through U-M’s College of Engineering and Mechanical Engineering Department, as well as other departments and entities, to create a new hands-on AM lab with state-of-the-art equipment scheduled to be installed and fully functional in January 2022.  A mix of on-site labs using high-end AM equipment and at-home labs using desktop 3D printers are on deck for our next course offering in Winter 2022. 

“We will keep growing,” Dr. Okwudire said. “This is a rapidly changing field. It’s dynamic. We will keep updating the pathway to continue to make it relevant to industry and meeting the needs of industry.”