UK, Toyota partner to offer unique engineering program to address automotive industry needs

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By Whitney Harder
Special to KyForward

Two of Kentucky’s economic engines are collaborating to graduate more engineers with automotive production training already under their belt, addressing a significant industry need in the nation’s third-largest auto-producing state.

Toyota Motor Engineering North America announced today at its Production Engineering and Manufacturing Center grand opening that it will partner with the University of Kentucky to develop a unique production engineering program, funded with a five-year, $1.25 million gift from Toyota.

Engineering students work in the new Chemical Engineering Lab (photo from UKNow)

“It’s a win-win solution for both UK and Toyota, which is only possible by working together,” said Kozo Saito, director of UK’s Institute of Research for Technology Development (IR4TD). “UK will attract future engineering students by providing a unique program sponsored by the world’s largest automaker. For Toyota, they will have access to well-educated and trained UK students and even prospective employees. The program could shorten time for Toyota to train newly hired engineers.”

The Undergraduate Production Engineering Certificate program, housed in IR4TD within the UK College of Engineering, will introduce UK students to automotive manufacturing core processes and give students access to Toyota’s state-of-the-art laboratory and world-class engineers. At the same time, Toyota engineers will be able to work closely with faculty and students to develop new ideas for on-going engineering challenges.

“At the University of Kentucky, we are deepening our engagement and collaboration with key industries, better preparing our students to develop new processes and products, solve technological challenges, shape manufacturing industries, and lead complex organizations in the 21st century,” said UK President Eli Capilouto. “Smart partnerships between higher education and industry build a skilled workforce, and can help Kentucky compete in a global economy.”

Working on real-world projects, students will be trained in lean thinking, based on the Toyota Production System, and problem-solving skills in stamping, welding, painting, assembling, plastics and powertrain design. The program is expected to begin in the fall of 2018 and draw students from mechanical, chemical and materials, and electrical and computer engineering.

“It will have heavy involvement of Toyota engineers who will be engaged in team teaching with UK faculty; we expect two to three Toyota engineers to support each course,” said Nelson Akafuah, IR4TD associate director.

The production engineering program builds on more than 20 years of successful partnership between Toyota and UK. UK’s Lean Systems Program was initiated by Toyota’s Honorary Chairman Fujio Cho in 1994 and has since helped thousands of organizations around the world increase efficiency. Like the Lean Systems Program, the new program will combine industry, academia and research to benefit students, companies, Kentucky and beyond.

“We are educating a motivated workforce of creative engineers and computer scientists who create innovation and entrepreneurship in their communities,” said UK College of Engineering Dean Larry Holloway. “This educational partnership with Toyota is a model for how we can work with industry to educate our students with the skills to help them succeed in well-paid positions while supporting Kentucky’s economy.”

Whitney Harder writes for UKNow

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