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SME Speaks: Supporting Manufacturing Innovation

 Debbie Holton

By Debbie Holton
Director of Events and Industry Strategy
Society of Manufacturing Engineers
Member Since 2005 


Shifting the innovation model to create new partnerships, connect with the market and prioritize workforce development is not easy. Our industry has spent many years building an enormous, but marginally effective, structure around manufacturing research and technology development. We are emotionally invested in what we’ve built, and therefore psychologically blocked from seeing what needs to change for the future. We must break free and continue to evolve.

A systemic approach to innovation is needed so that we can realize the promise of new technologies and processes to advance our industry. This approach includes funding basic and applied research, transitioning technology to industry and equipping our workforce with the skills to utilize it.

Over the last few years, the US government has developed a strategic approach to supporting manufacturing innovation—a plan to return the US to a dominant position worldwide in advanced manufacturing. It started with PCAST—The President’s Council on Advanced Science and Technology. This group created AMP—The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, which recommended the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), a series of national institutes.

The pilot for NNMI is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) in Youngstown, OH; NAMII launched in August 2012. Its goal is to address additive manufacturing/3-D printing technology so that it can be more widely accelerated into production. NAMII’s purpose is not just to discover technology breakthroughs, but more importantly, to transition them into the marketplace and to prepare the future workforce with the necessary skills.

In the meantime, many state and regional organizations have been feverishly building partnerships and alliances within the manufacturing space. Universities, corporations, nonprofits and economic development groups have been building their own regional clusters to position themselves for the NNMI going forward. Some industrious organizations, like the University of Illinois, have decided not to wait and are creating their own institutes. More than $100 million in funding is expected for the institute.

It follows that there will be others like the University of Illinois that will raise their flags in the spirit of manufacturing innovation, apply funds, assemble the best and brightest, and start turning out projects. The real key to driving manufacturing innovation and new discoveries, however, is not just partnering with the right people and organizations, but agreeing to a new way of doing business. Creating new partnerships is important, but we must also drive new types of relationships that better connect with the marketplace to transition technology and educate people.

There’s a reason that the technology transition process is called "the valley of death." Too many projects and technologies die of starvation before they are commercialized. By engaging economic development organizations, Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEPs), manufacturers and the supply chain throughout the process, we ensure that the market needs and can implement the technologies being developed.

As important as transitioning technology is a workforce that can operate and produce it. Having a graduate student work on a project or creating a new university course is not the goal—it’s the minimum. Community colleges that graduate technicians, K–12 programs that get kids interested in manufacturing, and educating parents about lucrative and challenging industry careers are all key to a well-equipped workforce.

Collaboration between industry, government and education is essential for successful innovation. One opportunity to forge these partnerships is the 41st North American Manufacturing Research Conference (NAMRC), which is hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, June 10–13, and co-located with the ASME International Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference. This event brings together hundreds of leading researchers from universities, companies and labs worldwide to foster partnerships and share their discoveries. This year, additive manufacturing will be a special focus.

You can also learn what’s next on the horizon for additive manufacturing and NAMII at SME’s RAPID 2013 Conference and Exposition, June 10–13 in Pittsburgh. For the first time, NAMII will be prominent at RAPID with a keynote from Rebecca Blank, PhD, deputy secretary of commerce, US Department of Commerce, and Ed Morris, NAMII executive director; a NAMII collaboration center where potential partners can learn how to engage; and a second "Call for Projects" will be announced. SME’s Rapid Technologies & Additive Manufacturing Community is committed to sharing its knowledge in this forum through workshops, awards, and the Bright Minds Mentor Program and Design for Direct Digital Manufacturing Competition.

It’s an exciting time to be in manufacturing, especially because it’s at the forefront of the US economy and politics. What’s been outlined in this editorial is a brief glimpse of the promising future to come. However, it’s up to all of us to continue to be innovative, thought-provoking catalysts for change in this vital industry. ME


President’s Circle Recognition

Congratulations and thank you to the following members who have achieved a new level of recognition through SME’s President’s Circle ( They have committed themselves to the growth of the Society through the recruitment and sponsorship of new members.

Diamond (200+ New Members Sponsored)

  • Carl Williams, CMfgE

Gold (100–149 New Members Sponsored)

  • Iain Cameron, PE
  • Lloyd Lunde, CMfgT
  • Ross Monroe, CMfgE
  • Paul Nutter, LSME, CMfgE

Silver (50–99 New Members Sponsored)

  • Brad Fitzgerald

Bronze (10–49 New Members Sponsored)

  • Brian Burke
  • Sherif Elwakil, PhD
  • Michael Geist
  • Richard Hyde
  • Travis Kepler
  • Patrick Krystyn
  • Jacob Lehman, CMfgE
  • Chris Michaeli
  • Greg Murray
  • Randy Raikes
  • Madeline Riddle
  • Jason Ross
  • Trent Sine, CMfgT

This article was first published in the May 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF

Published Date : 5/1/2013

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