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SME Speaks: Shall We Get Back in the Game?

Michael C. Burstein





When chapter activity throughout the Society was at its peak, the focus of this activity was preparation of members for certification exams, and then the provision of chapter events to give members the opportunity to earn credits to maintain their certifications. With the notable exception of a handful of chapters across the US and Canada, this central role of the chapters in certification has faded away. "In the good ole days," an aspiring manufacturing engineer, probably from an SME student chapter, would look to the local senior chapter for help in preparing for the Certified Manufacturing Technologist (CMfgT) exam. During his/her classes, the student would likely acquire mentors from the senior chapter who might well "keep an eye" on the young engineer through successively higher levels of certification, successively higher levels of professional responsibility, and successively higher levels of leadership roles in the Society.

All of this was facilitated by the support of major employers in the neighborhood of the senior chapter. For example, the American Fisheries Society's Tidewater Chapter had strong support from the Newport News Shipyards. Fortunately, the Tidewater Chapter continues to have strong support from Northrop Grumman, the current owner of the Newport News Shipyards. Employees, also SME chapter members, would benefit greatly from this type of support.

There have been many changes in the US manufacturing environment in the last two decades, from outsourcing (not so bad) to offshoring (a disaster) of production for the US market. Even the US Department of Defense (DOD) now looks to offshore sources for armaments. So we've lost a tremendous number of manufacturing engineering jobs. Oddly enough, prominent foreign manufacturers like Toyota have thought highly enough of our people to build plants in the US that are staffed by American manufacturing engineers. (Not enough plants, though, to come anywhere near offsetting the loss of manufacturing jobs here.) With bleak prospects for manufacturing engineers, fewer and fewer young people choose our profession. What's more, many experienced American manufacturing engineers were retired prematurely. Thus, in many cases our chapters found themselves without support from major employers, and without many of their members.

Apparently, with all of the product recalls of foreign goods (e.g., Chinese) in the US in 2008, and the not-so-good experiences of US companies primarily with offshored engineering services (think India here), manufacturing seems to be gaining ground again in the US. While the various forms of technology for automation likely will make unnecessary the peak level of manufacturing employment of the past, the US will need increasing numbers of highly skilled manufacturing engineers. So, once again, we need to get our chapters heavily involved with the development of young engineers. To aid this development, we will have new tools—for example Internet-based study resources (to back up chapter-delivered courses) and chapter-proctored online exams.

SME's Certification staff is currently in the midst of a redevelopment effort with major manufacturers, educational institutions, and government agencies (local, state, and federal) for SME's core certifications (i.e., Certified Manufacturing Technologist [CMfgT] and Certified Manufacturing Engineer [CMfgE]). This work is proceeding along the lines of a similar effort a few years ago for the now very successful Lean Certification. This effort is likely to once again garner the support of major employers, who could be a big help when we set out to develop chapter certification activities.

In true California style, four Los Angeles-area chapters are beginning to ride this wave with the formation of a Joint Certification Committee to facilitate the intensive reengagement of the chapters in certification activities. We also have the potential support of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) members in our region for this effort (many of them are current SME members). To expand the committee and gain more input, we will soon be looking to the many distinguished, certified members of our chapters for support of this reengagement. We are also blessed with many SME student chapters in the LA area, all of which are looking to us for mentorship of their young engineers. So what do you say that we get on with it?


About the Author

Michael C. Burstein, PhD, CEI, is president of T.I.P.E. Inc. (Amherst, MA). Burstein, who joined SME in 1995, is a current member of SME's Board of Directors. He's an SME Membership Consultant for Los Angeles-area chapters, chair of the Product & Process Design and Management Community, a community advisor for the Automated Manufacturing & Assembly Community, and chair of the AMA's Computer & Automated Systems Tech Group. He is past chair of the SME Member Council's Technical Community Network Leaders Subcommittee and served on the One SME Member Engagement Initiative Committee.


2009 Innovation:

Micro-Laser-Assisted Machining, µ-LAM


John Patten, PhD, CMfgE, PE
Department of Manufacturing Engineering
Western Michigan University
Kalamazoo, MI

The µ-LAM system uses a laser (typically an infrared [IR] fiber-coupled laser) integrated with a cutting tool (a single-point diamond is used, which is transparent to the laser radiation). The system is used to machine nominally hard and brittle materials, such as semiconductors and ceramics. The laser heats and thermally softens the workpiece material, and the diamond cutting tool removes the softened material. This process makes the material more pliable (softer) and easier to cut, and achieves enhanced plastic deformation, without brittle fracture, and extended tool life. The system is unique for two reasons: first, the laser and tool are coupled together in an integrated package, i.e., the laser beam passes through the diamond tool, and is delivered to the tool-workpiece interface. And second, the machining process is performed at a small-size scale (nanometers to micrometers), to avoid brittle fracture of the workpiece material. At larger-size scales, this class of brittle semiconductors and ceramics (covalent or ionic-bonded materials) are quite brittle, and are typical of an ideal brittle material at room temperature.

In essence, the infrared laser is used to heat the workpiece during the machining process. As the laser beam passes through the tool, a laser wavelength is used that can achieve absorption and heating of the workpiece, and that can pass through the diamond cutting tool. Other combinations of laser wavelengths can be used, depending on the workpiece and cutting tool materials. Fiber lasers are typically used, as they are compact, lower cost, and effective. The µ-LAM system is currently used for precision machining applications (finish-cutting conditions), and the material removal rates are not high (small feeds, 1–50µm per rev, and depths of cut from tens of nanometers up to tens of micrometers), at relatively modest cutting speeds up to 1–5 m/sec.

For our particular work, machining of semiconductors and ceramics, the sharpness of the diamond cutting tool provides the additional benefit of creating conditions at the cutting edge (a highly negative rake angle tool is also used) to achieve an extremely high stress state in the chip formation zone and cause a pressure-induced phase transformation, i.e., a high-pressure phase transformation (HPPT). While this effect is not needed for this process to be useful for all materials, it is particularly advantageous for semiconductors and ceramics, as these high-pressure phases tend to be metallic (not covalent), and thus are conducive to ductile or plastic deformation under proper conditions (using suitable machining or process parameters, such as speed, feed, and depth of cut, along with proper tool geometry).

The µ-LAM system combines machining (usually single-point turning, but other configurations are possible) and laser heating to achieve thermal softening. This is in contrast to conventional systems that are either purely machining (mechanical deformation) or laser machining/cutting, which does not use a conventional cutting tool. The µ-LAM system is similar to macro LAM, which uses a laser to preheat the workpiece prior to cutting, but different in two important ways. The µ-LAM system uses an integrated cutting tool and laser (in conventional LAM, the laser and cutting tool are two separate and decoupled components integrated onto a machine tool), and it is used for precision machining, achieving nanometer surface roughness (due to the use of diamond tooling).

The µ-LAM system has been used to machine silicon and silicon carbide, both workpieces are semiconductor-grade single-crystal material. Results achieved include a substantial reduction in hardness of the material (~50% reduction) and a corresponding significant reduction in the cutting forces (also ~50%). This combination of reduced hardness and concomitant lower cutting forces promotes less tool wear, and consequently increased tool life. Another potential related benefit of the process is a reduction in fracture or brittle behavior of the material. While this is the primary goal of the innovation/technology, it is a byproduct and benefit associated with the process. The heating and thermally induced softening can reduce the propensity of these nominally brittle materials to fracture, as a result of an overall increase in fracture toughness due to the elevated temperatures (crack tip blunting is the assumed process mechanism that provides this result). While it is not yet easy or practical to actually measure the process temperatures during processing, the estimated temperatures are greater than 600°C, and can be higher depending upon the process conditions (primarily related to laser power and cutting speed). The lasers currently used for the µ-LAM are rated at anywhere from 400 mW to 100 W. Therefore, these are low power (and thus low cost) compared to more conventional laser machining applications that may use kW-power-level lasers, which are much more expensive.


Congratulations to SME's 2009 Award Recipients

In February, the Society honored several individuals with its International Honor Awards, Award of Merit, and Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award. These awards highlight exceptional achievements of members and nonmembers who have made significant contributions to the social, technological, and educational progress of manufacturing. Here are this year's honorees:


2009 International Honor Award Recipients

Donald C. Burnham Manufacturing Management Award

Masahiko Mori, D-Eng., FSME,
Mori Seiki Co. Ltd.



SME Gold Medal

K.P. Rajurkar, PhD, FSME
University of Nebraska-Lincoln



Joseph A. Siegel Service Award

Brian A. Ruestow
F.W. Roberts Manufacturing Co. Inc.



SME Education Award

John W. Sutherland, PhD, FSME
Michigan Technological University



SME Frederick W. Taylor Research Medal

Kazuo Yamazaki, PhD
University of California, Davis


2009 Award of Merit Recipients
Michael Flaman
Portland No. 63

Paul Nutter, MBA, CMfgE, CQE, CQA
Ohio Northern University S186

Richard Thurman
Florida Suncoast No. 159

2009 John G. Bollinger Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award
Nicholas X. Fang, PhD
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dean Ho, PhD
Northwestern University

Kehai Li, PhD
ESAB North America

J. Rhett Mayor, PhD
Georgia Institute of Technology

Jun Qu, PhD
Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Iris V. Rivero, PhD
Texas Tech University

Many of the honorees will be accepting their awards at the SME International Honor Awards Gala and Reception being held at SME's Annual Conference, June 7–9 in Philadelphia. To learn more about the SME International Honor Awards and Recognition Program, please visit Or, to nominate an exceptional manufacturing practitioner, submit your nominations to


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

Published Date : 5/1/2009

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