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Bringing it Home: New Hubs Aim to Make Manufacturing Technologies Relevant

  Debbie Holton





By Debbie Holton
SME Director of Industry Strategy & Events
Former Deputy Director of Technology Transition at the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, now known as “America Makes.”

As the White House announces two more innovation institutes today--one for lightweighting in Michigan and another for digital manufacturing in Illinois--a national manufacturing network is taking shape that has the potential to create new businesses and jobs.

While technology is certainly cool, especially technology in manufacturing, this isn’t technology for technology’s sake alone.

These cutting-edge applications, materials and processes are all looking for a way to be integrated into existing manufacturing operations, or possibly spun off into a new company or product.  

The link between business and science is critical in the successful implementation of new technologies and processes. Perhaps a researcher has developed a revolutionary new coating that repels water and dissipates heat, but what are the manufacturing issues to be considered if this coating is to be applied by robotic spray technology or the potential use on finished parts? Is there a call for this type of capability in the aerospace, automotive or energy sectors? What type of companies manufacture these parts? Could they afford the infrastructure or new equipment needed to utilize this technology? What is the ROI for implementing this technology? What are the certification processes on the finished part, if any?

The most revolutionary technology in the world doesn’t move our industry forward if it doesn’t fill a need in the marketplace.

SME, which is supporting various aspects of the new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), creates the conduit for collaboration of manufacturers, business owners, academics and scientists, which is essential to success in commercializing new technology. SME members share expertise in evolving technologies like additive manufacturing, nanomanufacturing and advanced materials. In addition, SME members are successful business owners and manufacturing practitioners with experience in these fields. These manufacturers have access to a tremendous network of manufacturing innovation within the universe of their peers and the connectivity SME provides.

This key step of marketplace interaction and technology transition to production will be essential in the success of the latest series of recently announced national manufacturing institutes: Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute (Raleigh, NC); American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMMII; Canton, MI); and the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII; Chicago).

These new institutes join America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII; Youngstown, OH), which was established in August 2012 as part of the growing National Network of Manufacturing Innovation. This network aims to boost critical technology areas:

  • Electronics manufacturing, digital manufacturing and design, and lightweight metals are key areas for technology development for US manufacturing. Electronics manufacturing returning to the US is an obvious area for growth. The ability of industry, government and researchers to collaborate, especially providing advanced manufacturing capabilities to small and medium-sized manufacturers, will accelerate the invention, design and manufacture of new semiconductor chips and devices.
  • Digital manufacturing and design are critical because of the incredible amount of manufacturing data available, the need for real-time quality feedback in the manufacturing process, and the impending availability of cloud-based PLM solutions for small and medium-sized manufacturers. In addition, the ability to control manufacturing processes remotely, the “Internet of Things” and factory controls are all part of this space.
  • Lightweight and modern metals addresses fuel efficiency in transportation, increased speed and horsepower, and lower-cost manufacturing. This area is a key focus for the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, and a natural point of collaboration for both groups. The synergy of an integrated approach of systems engineering, materials design and advanced manufacturing will expand this vital area. 

SME is proud to be partnering on the ALMMII and DMDII, particularly in the workforce and education areas. Equipping the future workforce is an essential part of implementing any new technologies or processes, specifically the IT-related skills that will be needed by our growing manufacturing workforce. SME and its members will be building the body of knowledge, competencies and curriculum in these technologies, which are key aspects to future jobs and manufacturing growth.

In addition to SME’s continuing involvement with the manufacturing institutes, many of the technologies mentioned in this editorial (in particular digital manufacturing, lightweight materials and additive manufacturing) will be featured at THE BIG M, June 9-12 in Detroit. Learn more at

Published Date : 2/25/2014

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