Olson Center Executive Director Dr. Dean Bartles officiates at the center’s opening ceremonies

Manufacturing education got a boost last week when the University of New Hampshire officially opened the John Olson Advanced Manufacturing Center near the school’s main campus in Durham, NH.

The 7,500-square-foot center, which has been under development for the past year, was made possible by a $5.3 million grant from Whelen Engineering, a manufacturer of audio and visual warning equipment for the aviation and automotive markets. The center is named after John Olson, a former president of Whelen, who retired after a 40-year run as the head of the company.

At a ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday of last week attended by more than 100 people, including university and state officials, Olson said the center would help address the engineering labor shortage currently impacting manufacturing nationwide.

“We need engineers,” said Olson. “And we need to teach manufacturing. We let all of our manufacturing go offshore, but, little by little, it is coming back.”

Heading the new center as Executive Director is Dr. Dean Bartles, whose more than 30-year career in manufacturing has included executive positions at General Dynamics and as the first head of the Digital Manufacturing Design and Innovation Institute in Chicago. Dr. Bartles is also a member of the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s Board of Governors.

Dr. Bartles said the Olson Center will have three areas of focus: student engagement, outreach to industry, and research.

“This is a great opportunity to educate the next-generation workforce”, he said in opening remarks.

The new center’s mission is to provide “hands-on, interdisciplinary learning opportunities in a factory environment and collaborate with industry to modernize traditional manufacturing technologies; advance and create new high-efficiency, state-of-the-art materials and technologies; address the skills gap in U.S. manufacturing; and serve as a conduit for students and industry to the next generation of manufacturing technologies.”

Key technologies the center will focus on include high precision machining, light materials, flexible electronics, and others associated with Industry 4.0.