Domestic manufacturing efforts strengthened by new ASU school

November 15, 2022

This October, nearly 200 industry members and Arizona State University affiliates officially celebrated the launch of the highly anticipated School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks at ASU’s Polytechnic campus. The seventh and newest school in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU is poised to lead the university’s vision of revitalizing manufacturing to meet semiconductor and other technology demands in Arizona and beyond.

The open house event brought together manufacturing thought leaders and executives from key industries across the country to discuss the historical impacts of manufacturing in the U.S., global manufacturing competitiveness, and how academia and industry can work together to amplify manufacturing research and produce the versatile manufacturing engineers of tomorrow. Group of speakers and panelists seated at MSN open house, on stage near a podium Binil Starly, director and professor in the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks, the seventh and newest school in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, moderated a panel, “Technology and the Organization,” at an open house event featuring panelists (from left) Audrey St. Onge, president and CEO at Lallemand’s North American Baking business; John Dyck, CEO of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Institute, or CESMII; Paul Aiello, executive director of the certifications education group at FANUC America; and Jon Hobgood, vice president of advanced manufacturing and automation for Honeywell Inc. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU Download Full Image

In addition to celebrating the launch of the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks, Binil Starly, the school’s inaugural director, says he intentionally brought together decision-makers from academia and industry to offer a platform for meaningful dialogue and to move the needle forward.

During his discussions, Starly provided a window into the future research focuses of the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks: a three-year forecast for academic programming and new infrastructure that will support the school’s flourishing needs. He also outlined his visions for research and technology development in microelectronics manufacturing, space manufacturing and biomanufacturing.

“With our industrial partners, each of these areas represents significant opportunities for infrastructure development, research advancement and workforce development programs,” Starly said.

He also pointed out the significance of the New Economy Initiative and its part in driving manufacturing advances in the state of Arizona and specifically within the school through the MADE Science and Technology Center.

“From areas such as advanced materials processing, industrial automation and digital or cyber engineering in manufacturing, our faculty are jointly working with companies in Arizona to help accelerate the translation of new manufacturing technologies into factories,” he said.

Kyle Squires, ASU’s vice provost of engineering, computing and technology and dean of the Fulton Schools, emphasized that “the future of manufacturing will continue to be shaped by rapidly evolving technologies, globalized networks, complex supply chains and human-in-the-loop models.”

He reinforced the importance of collaboration and the integral role ASU’s stakeholders and partners will play in the success of the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks.

“There’s a reason that ASU has been No. 1 in innovation for eight years,” Squires said. “We thrive on and anticipate opportunities to make an impact. The combination of student attainment, faculty research and industry partnership has allowed us to become a force within the Phoenix metropolitan area, the state and the nation. Through our strategic efforts with partners in the community, government and industry, the Fulton Schools is on course to become the nation’s largest producer of engineering technical talent.”

The theme of collaboration echoed throughout the event, including in remarks from Ann McKenna, vice dean of strategic advancement for the Fulton Schools.

McKenna offered insights into the history of manufacturing at the Fulton Schools. She also leaned into the “applied, human-centered and industry-connected” nature of the ASU Polytechnic campus and the “powerful combination of expertise” that has the potential to stem from integrating the campus’s degrees and concentrations.

Following McKenna’s discussion was a keynote address by John Dyck, the CEO of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Institute, or CESMII. He focused on smart manufacturing democratization — the “frictionless movement of information, data and context between real-time operations and the people and systems that can create value for an organization” — and how this concept, involving coordination between academia and industry, is critical in securing global leadership in advanced manufacturing.

student poster showcase at the MSN open house

Mechanical engineering Graduate Research Associates Emmanuel Dasinor (left) and Laura Duenas Gonzalez presented their project during the student poster viewing at the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks open house event at the ASU Polytechnic campus. Photo by Erika Gronek/ASU

To draw even more attention to these concepts, Starly moderated two industry panels, “Technology and the Organization” and “Technology and the Human Worker,” featuring key industry leaders. He asked questions pertaining to the automation of factories, areas of opportunity in academia, the workforce of the future, impacts of the CHIPS and Science Act and how to attract students to manufacturing pathways, among other topics.

Panelist Jon Hobgood, the vice president of advanced manufacturing and automation for Honeywell Inc., was also in attendance. Local manufacturer Honeywell Aerospace is a global leader in the aviation industry with a strong commitment to operational efficiency, safety and innovation.

Since 2014, Honeywell Aerospace has invested annually in student-led capstone projects, capital equipment, sponsored research and curriculum at the Fulton Schools. The strategic partnership with ASU enables the company to recruit students into their facilities, which leads to “business success, rewarding careers for students and development of innovative processes and technologies to solve real, complex problems,” Hobgood said.

This year, Honeywell Aerospace entered into a multi-year plan with ASU investing in philanthropic student engagement, directed research and capital equipment that ties to their strategic plan to develop a robust engineering recruitment pipeline.

“Many have seen over the last few years how important it is for companies to manage a resilient supply chain and have the ‘know-how’ to design and manufacture high-technology products,” Hobgood said. “It is an appropriate time for leading schools like ASU to help invest in areas that will help students be effective leaders in solving these exciting challenges.”

Audrey St. Onge, president and CEO at Lallemand’s North American Baking business, a member of the AZNext advisory board and a panelist at the open house event, said, “I attend many industry events, and at the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks Open House, there was deep listening and passion for wanting to move the industry forward.”

Lallemand Baking, a company specializing in microorganisms for various applications such as baking, currently sponsors various e-Projects, or engineering projects, at The Polytechnic School, part of the Fulton Schools. The company recently hired a student to develop an e-Project into a real manufacturing solution.

Panelist Paul Aiello, executive director of the Certifications Education Group at FANUC America, spoke about the role of humans in autonomous factories. He said he was “excited to hear the level of engagement that ASU has with industry and the value ASU places on listening to the talent needs of industry.”

FANUC America is a leader in advanced automation, including robotics, CNC and automation technology, with a growing footprint in the Southwestern U.S.

“Our local customer base is struggling to find skilled talent at every level,” Aiello said. “So we look forward to aligning industry and education by working with ASU to build a center of excellence at ASU’s Polytechnic campus to prepare the next generation of manufacturing talent.”

Although only a three-hour event, the open house was jam-packed with substantive discussions and, most importantly, served as a catalyst for the large-scale manufacturing movement that’s taking place at ASU and in the local manufacturing industry.

Starly concluded the event by expressing his gratitude to the attendees and excitement for the future, emphasizing that “the School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks aspires to be a world leader in advanced manufacturing, producing graduates at all levels to help strengthen U.S. manufacturing.”

Sona Patel Srinarayana

Communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


ASU students float new idea for event security

Industry collaboration between the ASU Luminosity Lab and Axon leads to innovative Guardian Balloon system for campus and football game safety

November 15, 2022

When you're headed to a football game, you’re usually looking forward to the action on the field or enjoying time with your friends. But if you're going to Arizona State University's Homecoming game on Saturday, Nov. 19, take a minute to look up on your way there. You may notice a set of large balloons equipped with innovative technology created by a team of top ASU students.

These balloons, known as Guardian Balloons, are the result of a collaboration between Scottsdale-based safety technology company Axon and ASU students from the Luminosity Lab, a student-led research and development lab based in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. The students worked with Axon professionals to come up with new ways to help secure large college campuses like ASU and university events such as football games. Three people work on cables and a camera assembly underneath a large balloon. Arizona State University Luminosity Lab Director Tyler Smith (left), aerospace and mechanical engineering senior Hatvi Thakkar (right) and Axon Senior Program Manager Jake McElroy (back) test the camera payload of a Guardian Balloon, a new security tool developed by Luminosity Lab students in collaboration with safety company Axon. ASU football game attendees may notice these balloons as the team tests them for use in situational awareness applications. Photo by Alexander Chapin/ASU Download Full Image

This effort is part of a larger experiment to create comprehensive security for the 21st century, says Karl Schultz, vice president and head of Taser robotics at Axon. ASU students' contributions are an integral part of the development process.

“Luminosity’s strengths are being able to take those large, real-world problems, break them down and develop solutions that cross different discipline boundaries and barriers,” says Tyler Smith, director of Luminosity Lab. “And by doing that, they are able to come up with one of the best possible solutions for the problem.”

Challenging problem

Large, open environments like ASU's Tempe campus pose big security challenges, which the Axon and Luminosity Lab team have been learning about from Dave Ellis, founder of GEMSEC Consulting.

Security teams must find a balance between public access and mitigating potential threats in these spaces. Ellis says solutions that enhance situational awareness over wide areas are one way to increase security without hindering people’s experiences.

“Having situational awareness and tools like the balloons that will allow you to be more efficient in monitoring your environment are really beneficial for not only stopping things before they happen, but should something happen, it gives those decision-makers more tools in their toolbox,” Ellis says.

Creative solution

The Luminosity Lab and Axon team is developing a flexible situational awareness tool that rises to meet security challenges.

The Guardian Balloons are helium-filled, tethered balloons equipped with cameras that capture 4K, high-resolution video. Multiple balloons launched to heights of around 60 to 100 feet can work together as one system to get a full view of an area like Sun Devil Stadium and the surrounding areas. Security teams can pan, tilt and zoom in on the video feed to watch for potentially dangerous situations that need attention.

The students have been working with the ASU Police Department to get feedback about the concept and capabilities safety agencies are interested in, Smith says. The department's support in combination with Axon’s expertise has helped the team operationalize the Guardian Balloon technology for use in real-world settings like Sun Devil Stadium.

“The biggest challenge was the stability of the balloons to give a proper video feed that is useful for police officers,” says Jake McElroy, a senior program manager at Axon who has been working with the Luminosity Lab students during the project's development. “The ASU team has done a fantastic job in countering these challenges using video stabilization, balloon redesign and alternative methods such as a hard mount.”

A large white balloon with Arizona State University printed on it, pictured in front of a building on the ASU Tempe campus.

The Guardian Balloons are helium-filled balloons that can be set up around an event. They can provide security teams a bird’s-eye view of a wide area to watch for potentially dangerous situations and quickly send help. Photo by Alexander Chapin/ASU

While balloons seem low-tech, they have advantages over helicopters and drones, which are typically used to get a bird's-eye view of events. Comparatively, the balloons are quieter and cheaper, have fewer restrictions and are easier to use.

They’re also very scalable — additional balloons can be launched and integrated into the system from almost anywhere in as little as 20 minutes — which makes them better suited for scenarios in which hard-mounted cameras and the infrastructure they require are not optimal. Guardian Balloons can be powered by wired electrical and internet connections, or a battery and wireless connection to further increase the flexibility of the design.

“The ease of deployment and flexibility of location that comes with this (solution) pushes us to explore balloons as a new avenue for safety and event security,” says Ananay Arora, a computer science graduate student in the Fulton Schools who has been leading the Guardian Balloons’ software development. “The low cost while delivering much higher-quality video also makes it a big win.”

Interdisciplinary industry collaboration

Developing a situational awareness system for a complex security landscape requires a wide range of skills and expertise. The eight Luminosity Lab students who have worked on the project so far are undergraduate and graduate students in a variety of degree programs, including computer science, mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, electrical engineering, business and industrial design.

Jacob Mansur, a junior in the industrial design program at The Design School at ASU, says he has used all of the fundamental skills he learned from his coursework and even picked up new skills through his work on the project.

“With Luminosity, I’ve been given more mentorship than I’d typically have in a class, and it has really helped me with understanding what is expected once I graduate with my bachelor’s degree,” Mansur says.

Companies, students and more than 400 ASU labs and facilities are brought together to solve problems and achieve concrete solutions by ASU Knowledge Enterprise's Corporate Engagement and Strategic Partnerships.

“We work with all industries and all capabilities,” says Jon Relvas, business development director of Corporate Engagement and Strategic Partnerships.

A group of four people from ASU and Axon work on camera technology and balloon on top of the Memorial Union building on the ASU Tempe campus.

ASU Luminosity Lab Director Tyler Smith (front), Axon Senior Program Manager Jake McElroy (back left), Axon Vice President Karl Schultz (back center) and ASU undergraduate student Hatvi Thakkar conduct a test of the Guardian Balloons from the top of the Memorial Union building on ASU's Tempe campus in early October. Photo by Alexander Chapin/ASU

Through Corporate Innovation Labs, Relvas says that “companies see the hands-on work that these brilliant students can do and develop, and exposes the corporations to a win-win situation: The students get experience, and at the same time, the companies may create new solutions and IP (intellectual property), something that can go to the commercial market and gets applied to real-world challenges.”

Schultz, who was a professor of practice in the Fulton Schools before joining Axon, has been impressed by the diversity of perspectives and skills the students have brought to the project and what they’ve achieved in a short amount of time.

“ASU students and the Luminosity Lab are very experienced at rapid prototyping, at practical engineering and manufacturing, not just writing a bunch of equations and saying we solved the problem,” Schultz says. “ASU really emphasizes that throughout the curriculum, and it shows in the quality of work we get from these programs.”

In addition to getting cost-effective, innovative solutions and leveraging the creativity and passion of the students, collaborations such as the Guardian Balloons project are effective workforce development activities.

“Through this project, I was able to design models based on industry standards,” says Hatvi Thakkar, an aerospace and mechanical engineering senior who designed simulation models to test the balloon’s performance in various environmental conditions. “I also learned a lot about various manufacturing techniques for the components used in the assembly of the balloon.”

Success with more to come

McElroy has been impressed by the team’s ability to overcome challenges and improve the Guardian Balloons’ performance.

“When given operational feedback, the team can create a product within days to weeks that mirrors the requirements from Axon,” McElroy says. “This type of turnaround has allowed the team to stay on track to success.”

Their solution is nearing new heights in the development of a non-intrusive and effective way for security teams to quickly notice threats, analyze the situation and respond.

“I think the students came up with a great system that is effective, efficient, scalable, affordable and easily deployable,” Ellis says. “Oftentimes you don’t get all of that in a solution. And it solves not only the challenge of creating great situational awareness, but it has other applications.”

The students are also planning ways to make the balloons a fun presence at ASU events, from using LED lights that can add to the spectacle to other helpful capabilities such as wayfinding features.

For now, it's a rewarding experience for the Luminosity Lab students to see their solution in action at an ASU football game and to know there are bigger possibilities on the horizon.

“My team and I feel incredibly positive about what we’re doing,” Arora says, “which is using our engineering skills to build something that keeps the ASU community safe.”

Video by Alexander Chapin and Jerrell Ayran

Sandra Keaton Leander, assistant director of media relations at ASU Knowledge Enterprise, contributed to this story.

Monique Clement

Lead communications specialist, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering