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Sangkee Min
February 5, 2024

Sabbatical discoveries launch new Wisconsin manufacturing consortium

Written By: Caitlin Scott



Mechanical Engineering’s Sangkee Min, Associate Professor and Grainger Institute for Engineering Faculty Scholar, spent time during the 2022-2023 academic year on sabbatical in Korea and hatched an idea that is now impacting Wisconsin engineers – the development of a new manufacturing consortium.

Sangkee Min
Sangkee Min

Prof. Min is an expert in machining process and manufacturing strategy and visited many Korean factories during his sabbatical. On one of his visits to a facility, he encountered manufacturing engineers struggling with entanglement of long metal chips to the spindle in their finish machining process, which ruined the integrity of surface quality and tool life. The engineers had been working for months and tried various methods to resolve the issue without success. As luck would have it, Prof. Min was in the right place at the right time. He was able to identify what the problem was and solved it on the spot. “I saw the change of their facial expression from skeptical to respectful,” says Min. “It was the most rewarding experience as an engineer that I solved the problem and used a very fundamental knowledge. The knowledge that I used was one of core contents of Metal Cutting (ME429) that I have taught at UW and the research of my team. Even though the material is different, the fundamental is the same and thus chip formation is one of key elements of machining.”

ME 429 field trip New Berlin
ME 429 course field trip to Sumitomo Electric Carbide, New Berlin, WI in fall 2023.

Min had an ‘aha’ moment, recognizing his role as an engineer with the luxury to explore deep science which would help industry. He visited many factories within the industrial cluster around that initial location and was challenged by many manufacturing problems. He was able to solve about 30% of those problems easily, but another 30% of problems require some level of research, and the remaining 40% are well known to be very difficult problems which may require years of research.

These companies face three major problems, and not just in Korea. As their manufacturing engineers age, almost all traditional manufacturing companies are suffering from lack of workforces both in floor workers and engineers. Secondly, when they need help, there is no one to ask. In earlier times, they could easily find experts at schools who specialized in one of their manufacturing processes. But nowadays, it is extremely hard to find experts because those who used to do such research changed their topic to “advanced manufacturing” which is far from practical industry processes. Third, there are few schools teaching conventional manufacturing processes even though over 90% of manufacturing that industry utilizes is conventional manufacturing processes.

Min explains “When I recognized this, I decided to dedicate myself to helping SMEs through my research and teaching. But it’s difficult to get funding in conventional manufacturing. Hence, I established a new consortium at UW-Madison called MAUM (Manufacturing Advancement through Unprecedented Morphing).”

MAUM pursues three main objectives; 1) solve real industry problems, 2) conduct research for moderate to difficult manufacturing problems, and 3) establish workforce pipeline for SMEs.

Course visit to Fives, Giddings, and Lewis
ME 429 course field trip to Fives, Giddings, and Lewis, Fond du Lac, WI.

Min’s team is lending their expertise to help the industry’s machining problems. As the consortium grows, other manufacturing processes will be added. The team has already helped a company to solve welding issues using smart manufacturing technology. During the process of collating common industrial problems and setting the research milestone, engineers from participating companies will join the research to balance science and engineering and transfer technologies directly to the engineer. The workforce pipeline objectives can be achieved in two ways. Min plans to bring real industry examples into his courses on Metal Cutting and Manufacturing: Metals and Automation so that students can correlate what they learn with real industrial problems. He is also offering a new course on Advanced Machining this semester which has much higher in-depth knowledge of industrial problems. He plans to add many guest lecturers and field trips to industry sites so students can hear perspectives and see real manufacturing processes.

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