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SME Speaks: To Our Members--The Source of SME's Strength

Michael F. Molnar





It is my honor to say thank you to all the many volunteers who have done so much to validate our tagline Where Manufacturing Comes Together. There are many organizations—both physical and virtual—that touch on manufacturing. My intent in this article is to offer three observations about SME and the impact of our volunteer leaders.


Volunteers Make the Society Special

SME has been described as many different things, and in a sense all are true as dimensions of the leading society for advancing manufacturing knowledge. As a source of expositions, technical conferences, training, and a myriad of publications, our claim to "influencing more than half a million manufacturing practitioners annually" is widely regarded as a very low, conservative estimate. Tens of thousands choose to be individual members of SME, and these members are the basis of our first distinction as THE manufacturing professional society. The next distinction is the many hundreds of very involved members who serve as volunteer leaders. These leaders, enabled and supported by extraordinary SME staff members, are both the keepers of our heritage and the change agents of our future.   

Who are they? SME leaders are found in many roles, in local chapters, technical groups, meeting and webinar organizers, authors and editors, accreditation and certification programs, membership consultants, technical community advisors and leaders, and committee and council members. All are incredibly diverse but have some common traits: a passion for manufacturing, and a commitment to sharing their professional skills and knowledge. As you know, it takes a great deal of dedication and time to fulfill these particular roles.

Information Revolution Doesn't Guarantee Being Informed

We live in an amazing interconnected world where information seems ubiquitous. What's the value of SME, you might ask, when a search engine can seemingly bring you the world in milliseconds? A famous quote about information overload from Nobel laureate Herbert Simon, first published in 1971, states: A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

The bandwidth of information today is magnitudes greater, outpaced only by growing expectations of productivity and competitiveness. Difficult problems and disruptive technologies are not addressed in those search-engine milliseconds. The relevance of a professional society is even more important today in the bounty of data. Information obtained through SME journals, conferences, training, and yes, the physical network of colleagues, is qualified and vetted. This is a principal reason for the formation of our Technical Communities Network.

Communication Challenges

One of the best benefits of volunteer leader service is the visibility of the incredible breadth and depth of activities throughout SME. The Member Council often receives ideas, suggestions, and outright complaints. Surprisingly, the answers are often "yes SME has this product, service, or benefit, which addresses that" or, failing this, "we have a committee, board, group, or taskforce working on this, would you like to be involved?" This just reinforces the truism that it is not possible to overcommunicate news and activities throughout the Society.

In assessing how to better address these member queries and the apparent disconnect they reflect, the Member Council formed a Communications Taskforce. An early emphasis for this group was to champion our quarterly member e-newsletter. Every area of the Society is invited to highlight activities, collaboration, and accomplishments in the newsletter. This is posted at, and sent out to every member with a registered e-mail address. We hope you have enjoyed these editions.

In this communications spirit, here are but a few examples of accomplishments by SME volunteer leaders that may have escaped your attention:

  • A Lean to Green Webinar Series brought a member idea to fruition and led to the Lean to Green Sustainability Tech Group working with the Department of Labor (DOL) and Purdue University's Technical Assistance Program to develop an industrysanctioned Green Manufacturing Specialist Certificate.

  • Three face-to-face events (two forums and one summit) brought together a confluence of people and ideas unified by a collection of related papers, videos, photos, and presentations, which were captured and made accessible via a wiki. The goal, Curricula 2015, is the advancement and quality of manufacturing curriculum and how it is taught; this has not been done since 1995.

  • The annual Bright Minds Mentor Program, now in its fifth year, has exposed more than 250 students to prototyping, tooling, and additive manufacturing industries as prospective career choices.

  • Creating the first annual Manufacturing Your Future student event at FABTECH (developed jointly with SME, AWS, FMA, and PMA).

  • Monadnock No. 124 brought industry, academia, and the governor together to discuss what was needed to support manufacturing in New Hampshire.

  • Greater Canton No. 110 produced an event focused on the manufacturing of wind energy products.

  • Nashville No. 43 will host SME's 2010 Annual Conference; Philadelphia No. 15 hosted the 2009 Annual Conference.

  • Houston No. 29 and the Machining & Material Removal Community developed and hosted a variety of events during HOUSTEX, including an advanced technologies conference on Manufacturing Processes for Oil and Gas, a student program on careers in technology, and hosted delegates from the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters organization.

  • Production of a paper that laid the groundwork going forward for SME's role in higher education.

  • Technology oversight, innovations watch.

  • Development of an SME Faculty Advisor guide.

  • Content development of and presenters for the SME Leadership Series.

  • Letters and editorials that support manufacturing written to local and national leaders as well as newspapers.

One of the best ways to thank these leaders is to call attention to their excellent work and recognize their volunteer services. We thank you for your time and dedication to the Society.

Innovations that Could Change the Way You Manufacture

In 2007, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's (MIT; Cambridge, MA) Department of Physics, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) experimentally demonstrated an important step toward accomplishing a future in which wireless power transfer is feasible. This work could result in cell phones, household robots, MP3 players, laptop computers, and other portable electronics capable of charging themselves without ever being plugged in, freeing us from that final, ubiquitous power wire (MIT, 2008).

Wireless Power Transfer

In 2006 Marin Soljacic , an assistant professor of physics at MIT, was dragged out of bed by the insistent beeping of a cell phone. Standing in his pajamas, he wished the phone would just begin charging itself as soon as it was brought into the house. This late-night thought eventually led to Soljacic searching for ways to transmit power wirelessly. Instead of pursuing a long-distance scheme like 19th century inventor Nikola Tesla, he decided to look for midrange power-transmission methods that could charge—oreven power—portable devices such as cell phones, PDAs, and laptops. He considered using radio waves, which effectively send information through the air, but found that most of their energy would be lost in space. More-targeted methods like lasers require a clear line of sight—and could have harmful effects on anything in their way. So Soljacic sought a method that was both efficient—able to directly power receivers without dissipating energy to the surroundings—and safe.

He eventually landed on the phenomenon of resonant coupling, in which two objects tuned to the same frequency exchange energy strongly but interact only weakly with other objects. A classic example is a set of wine glasses, each filled to a different level so that it vibrates at a different sound frequency. If a singer hits a pitch that matches the frequency of one glass, the glass might absorb so much acoustic energy that it will shatter; the other glasses remain unaffected.

Soljacic found magnetic resonance a promising means of electricity transfer because magnetic fields travel freely through air yet have little effect on the environment or, at the appropriate frequencies, on living beings. Working with MIT physics professors John Joannopoulos and Peter Fisher and three students, he devised a simple setup that wirelessly powered a 60W light bulb. The researchers built two resonant copper coils and hung them from the ceiling, about two meters apart.

When they plugged one coil into the wall, alternating current flowed through it, creating a magnetic field. The second coil, tuned to the same frequency and hooked to a light bulb, resonated with the magnetic field, generating an electric current that lit up the bulb—even with a thin wall between the coils.

Not only was the light bulb illuminated, but the theoretical predictions of high efficiency over distance were proven experimentally. By placing various objects between the source and capture device, the team demonstrated how the magnetic near field can transfer power through certain materials and around metallic obstacles.

Thus Professor Soljacic's dream of finding a method to wirelessly connect mobile electric devices to the existing electric grid was realized. WiTricity Corp. (Watertown, MA) was launched in 2007 to carry this technology forward from the MIT laboratories to commercial production (WiTricity Corp., 2009).

WiTricity's technology for power transfer is nonradiative and relies on near-field magnetic coupling. Many other techniques for wireless power transfer rely on radiative techniques, either broadcast or narrow beam (directed radiation) transmission of radio, or light waves.

Broadcast radiation of radio frequency energy is commonly used for wireless information transfer because information can be transmitted over a wide area to multiple users. The power received by each radio or wireless receiver is miniscule, and must be amplified in a receiving unit using an external power supply. Because most of the radiated power is dissipated into free space, radio transmission is considered to be an inefficient means of power transfer. Note that while more energy can be supplied to the receiver by "cranking up the power" of the transmitters in these systems, such high power levels may pose a safety hazard, and may interfere with other radio-frequency devices.

WiTricity's mode of wireless power transfer is highly efficient over distances ranging from centimeters to several meters. The company defines efficiency as the amount of usable electrical energy that is available to the device being powered, divided by the amount of energy that is drawn by the WiTricity source. In many applications, efficiency can exceed 90%.

Two initial industrial applications have already been identified for this technology. The first involves power across rotating and moving joints (robots, packaging machinery, assembly machinery, machine tools). This eliminates costly and failure-prone wiring. The second application is for wireless sensors and actuators, which eliminates the need for expensive power wiring or battery replacement and disposal.


This article was first published in the November 2009 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 11/1/2009

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