The Smartforce Student Summit at IMTS 2014 was by many measures the most successful student summit ever presented at IMTS. Far more high school and college students, teachers, administrators, parent chaperones, and community college and university instructors and professors attended than ever before. In fact, attendees came from 34 states, double the number of states represented at IMTS 2012.

We tried something a little different at the student summit this year. In addition to industry-based exhibitors, we involved a number of national education organizations like Project Lead The Way, The National Math and Science Initiative, Sally Ride Science and FIRST®. Ultimately, we created an environment that fostered engagement and interactivity through specific challenges from as many exhibitors as possible.

The strategy was to include exhibitors who would allow us to engage students in all aspects of the manufacturing process. We included CAD/CAM software exhibitors who could allow students to design and 3D model. We included 3D printing equipment manufacturers who allowed students to 3D print their designs on site. CNC simulators and machining centers and lathes were included to show students how to program and machine parts. Robotics manufacturers were included to show students how to automate the process. Metrology equipment manufacturers allowed students to measure parts.

This year, the most popular challenge took place in the 3D printing, Make It! area. Students engaged in the launch of a new experiential 3D printing challenge called Rippl3d (www.Rippl3d.com), where they were able to change four design variables on a small wind turbine blade (blade height, blade length, blade angle and number of blades) and then 3D print the blade in multi-colors in about 15 minutes. Using the turbines they created, students measured whether they were able to increase the RPM and competed against their peers for a daily prize—a 3D printed test/measurement stand for their school. 

The competitive environment of the Rippl3d challenge was such that students whose designs were knocked out of the number one spot as the day progressed returned to work on a redesign to see if they could re-take that number one spot. Some days, the number one spot changed back and forth several times. 

As part of the overall design of the student summit, we included street signs to honor inventors, engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs from the past. Starting with the Welcome/Orientation sessions—which mirrored the ExxonMobil commercial series currently on TV—we challenged students to consider what they might create, like those who came before them. Throughout the summit, we encouraged young people to consider what might be the next game-changing invention in the  wearables, smart phone, automobile, aerospace, bio-medical and sustainable energy industries. 

It was very helpful that on Tuesday during IMTS, Apple announced the launch of the new iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, the Apple Smart Watch and Apple Pay. We asked students to consider all of the product designers, industrial designers, engineers, computer scientists and technicians of all sorts who were required for a launch like that and to support the product, as well as the next generation of apps that will be invented from this specific launch.

Perhaps the best connection from the challenges at the student summit to a real-world activity was the connection from the Make It! area to something that had not even been a part of the real world until IMTS. The Strati, the 3D printed, zero emission vehicle that was built through a partnership between Local Motors, Oak Ridge National Labs, AMT members and AMT, provided students, their teachers and parents with a terrific example of what’s possible when you add innovative manufacturing technology.

The challenge now is for industry to build on and continue the momentum for the next generation of students. Together, we can provide the spark that young minds require. I would like to challenge all AMT members to be a mentor in schools in your local community. It’s quite possible that a student who will create the next game-changing invention was in our midst at IMTS. Let’s make sure they become part of the next generation of U.S. Manufacturing.

Contact Greg Jones at gjones@AMTonline.org or 703-827-5203. For more frequent updates, as well as a daily review of the student summit, follow Greg on Twitter @GregoryAJones.