Christopher Brown Is Named New Director of WPI's Manufacturing Engineering Program

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Professor Christopher Brown (far right) , new director of WPI's Manufacturing Engineering program, is shown (from left) with graduate students Michael Malchiodi and Torbjorn Bergstron, Surface Metrology Lab manager.

WORCESTER, Mass. - Christopher Brown of Norwich, Vt., has been named director of Worcester Polytechnic Institute's Manufacturing Engineering (MFE) program. An associate professor, Brown came to WPI in 1989. He succeeds MFE program director Shaukat Mirza, professor of practice in manufacturing engineering, who will now concentrate on research and teaching.

"Manufacturing engineering is arguably the original engineering discipline taught at WPI, supporting for well over a century the technological base of one of the most important manufacturing regions in the world," Brown said. "Central Massachusetts is one of the cradles of the Industrial Revolution. Manufacturing in Massachusetts has been of critical strategic importance for America since the beginning of the boycott of British goods that preceded the Revolutionary War."

Brown noted that the manufacturing technologies developed in New England lead the world in quality and tolerances, enabling the implementation of what became known around the world as the American System for mass production.

"New England, Massachusetts and Worcester County continue to lead the nation and world in many critical manufacturing technologies," he added. "In Worcester County, 33 percent of all personal income comes directly from manufacturing payrolls."

In the 1980s WPI became one of the first schools in the country to offer an Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) approved bachelor of science degree in manufacturing engineering and soon followed as one of the first to grant a Ph.D. degree. WPI offers four degrees in manufacturing engineering, including a master of science and a master of engineering. One of eight concentrations in the Mechanical Engineering Department, manufacturing engineering will soon become a minor course of study.

Manufacturing engineers are in demand for product, process and tool design and for production implementation. First-year students follow the same basic math and science courses as mechanical engineering. The course requirements are a mixture of mechanical and electrical engineering, computer science and management. MFEs learn about robotics, materials, processing, controls, production systems, design and computer-integrated manufacturing.

Brown came to WPI from Atlas Copco in Europe, where he was a senior research engineer working on the design and manufacture of air tools and air compressors. Prior to that he directed the surface group in the Mechanical Metallurgy Laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. A corresponding member of the U.S. delegation to the International Institution for Production Engineering Research, he is a member and past chair of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (ASME) Machining Technology Association Board of Advisors and head of the ASME subcommittee for fractal analysis of surface textures. He founded the Surface Metrology Lab at WPI (www.wpi.edu/~tral) where researchers have made a number of important discoveries about how to relate surface roughness to texture-sensitive properties such as coating adhesion and friction.

He has produced more than 100 professional articles and presentations on manufacturing and surface metrology. The work of the Surface Metrology Lab has been supported by NASA's Langley Research Center, Kodak, 3M, Mahr-Federal and Metrex.

Brown is among the teachers of the undergraduate course ME1800 Material Selection and Manufacturing Processes, which serves as an introduction to manufacturing engineering.

"The course is historically known as 'Grunge' because the students used to do sand castings," Brown said. "Now the students learn manufacturing principles by machining, measuring and assembling Stirling engines-external combustion engines that run on a low pressure thermodynamic cycle, where air is heated to move a piston and then cooled."

Brown had help in developing the Stirling engine lab from friends at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth College, where he took a sabbatical.

"Dartmouth was the first school I know of where the students made Stirling engines," Brown said. "MIT picked it up from Dartmouth. At WPI, instead of each individual making his or her own engine, as at Dartmouth and MIT, the class uses production lines to mass produce enough engines for everyone, thereby learning principles of mass production."

Brown also teaches an evening graduate course, the Design and Analysis of Manufacturing Processes, which covers axiomatic design, a method developed at MIT by Nam Suh (www.axiomaticdesign.com).

"A couple of years ago a student, who was a practicing manufacturing engineer and part-time grad student, applied this design method to a redesign of his factory and saved his company $2.4 million before the class finished in December," Brown said.

It was also on his sabbatical at Dartmouth that Brown developed his Technology of Alpine Skiing course, in which many engineering concepts are introduced in the context of skiing. To analyze the forces between an edged ski and the snow, for example, he uses Merchant's theory of chip formation in machining, a topic he recently lectured on at the University of Innsbruck, which is well known for its outstanding research on the science of skiing.

In his new position as director, Brown aims to increase awareness of the opportunities in manufacturing engineering among pre-college students.

"Many engineers have told me that their companies will be hiring manufacturing engineers in the next year," Brown said. "At least one is looking for as many as 200 new hires. Students need to be made aware of the jobs that are waiting for manufacturing engineers. Students also need to find out how exciting manufacturing is. My most important role as a teacher is to motivate students."

Brown has inspired students over the years by bringing myriad examples from industry into the classroom for examination and demonstration. He brings students to factories and advises projects in which students interact with practicing engineers on current industrial problems.

He earned all three of his degrees at the University of Vermont: a B.A. in political science in 1975 and 1979 M.S. and 1983 Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering. While at UVM, he was a champion skier who was named an NCAA All-American and twice All East downhill champ. He is a member of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers local chapter.

"The chapter has been very generous, setting up an endowed scholarship to help our students, and helping us to recognize our students' accomplishments," Brown said.

Faculty members in manufacturing engineering include:

Yiming "Kevin" Rong is an associate professor of manufacturing engineering. He received a 1981 B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Harbin University of Science and Technology, China; a 1984 M.S. degree in manufacturing engineering from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China; a 1987 M.S. degree in industrial engineering from University of Wisconsin, Madison; and a 1989 Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from University of Kentucky. Rong worked as a faculty member at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale for eight years. His research focuses on computer-aided manufacturing, including machining processes, fixturing, process planning and modeling and monitoring of manufacturing processes. He is a principal investigator of several research projects funded by the National Science Foundation, Air Force, Society of Manufacturing Engineers and several major manufacturing companies.

M. S. Fofana is an assistant professor of manufacturing engineering. He received a combined B.S./M.S. degree in manufacturing engineering from the Technical University of Budapest in 1986 and a 1989 M.S. and 1993 Ph.D. degrees in theoretical mechanics from the University of Waterloo. From 1993-1997, he was a visiting assistant professor at WPI. Fofana teaches computer-aided manufacturing for undergraduate students and dynamical systems in manufacturing for graduate students. His current research interests include machine-tool chatter and delay dynamical systems.

WPI, founded in 1865, is renowned for its project-based curriculum. Under the WPI Plan, students integrate classroom studies with research projects conducted on campus and around the world.