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SME Speaks: Technology Transition: Key Ingredient to Ensuring Manufacturing Innovation Through NNMI Institutes

Debbie Holton 






By Debbie Holton
SME Interim Managing Director of Industry and Technology

Technology is cool, especially technology that’s currently being developed by manufacturing researchers. 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.  

In February, SME hosted a Technology Interchange event in Detroit featuring NASA technologies. The Technology Interchange featured 25 different NASA technologies that were selected as a good fit for the region by technical experts, and which had the potential to be commercialized by manufacturers. During the event, keynote speaker Gregg Peterson from Lotus Engineering (Ann Arbor, MI), talked about his successes in incorporating NASA-developed technology, such as friction spot joining, electromagnetic pulse forming, polymer-matrix nanocomposites, aerogels and more. Peterson had worked closely with the space agency and its technologists to uncover ways to make the Lotus vehicles lighter, faster and more cost-effective to produce.

In the end, the key to Peterson’s success was that he was able to see the potential for implementation—making modifications to the technology that would be needed to incorporate into a manufacturing process, and then ultimately building the business case for use and return on investment (ROI). While advanced manufacturing technology is fascinating, researchers and scientists often fall in love with the technology itself and its potential, without fully understanding the barriers to widespread use and the actual customer need that it fills. This is where technology transition is incredibly important.

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 aerospace, automotive or energy? 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 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.

  • 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. 

Because the NNMI network covers technologies that are in Technology Readiness Level 4–7, the commercialization and implementation of the technologies are an important metric of success. Working with small and medium-sized enterprises, engaging the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) offices and other manufacturing outreach organizations early in the development process is vital to rapid deployment.

 Figure 1. Gap in Manufacturing Innovation.

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 ME  


This article was first published in the April 2014 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.  Click here for PDF.  

Published Date : 4/1/2014

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