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Manufacturing Marches Toward Digital Future

Dean Bartles









Dean L. Bartles, PhD, FSME

2016 SME President 
   SME Member Since 2002

Digital manufacturing. The Internet of Things (IoT). Industry 4.0. Factory of the future. Smart manufacturing. We’ve all heard the buzz words, and many of us are excited about the direction manufacturing is headed. Fortunately for me, in my role as the chief manufacturing officer for UI LABS and the executive director of the Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute in Chicago, I get to experience many of these exciting trends and technological advancements firsthand.

Luckily, I’ve always been fascinated by manufacturing and its infinite possibilities, particularly since I grew up around manufacturing (my father owned a small welding and machining company in Maryland where he made iron railings and installed trailer hitches). In that era, the manufacturing environment was very hands-on, but now, the global manufacturing world is marching toward a digital factory of the future, in which parts are created and tested in virtual environments. Digital files are then sent to a factory where parts and products are made in a nearly done-in-one setup. Production can run almost around the clock, often unattended by people, who can receive off-site digital notifications when they’re needed for fixes, analyses or programming. 

With all of these advancements, I often ask myself if we’re going to be able to keep up. Will the factory of the future have a workforce that is knowledgeable about the technologies used to operate the factory? What else can we do to ensure manufacturing has what it needs to be successful?

These thoughts often bring me back to SME and what we offer the industry as a whole. SME serves the manufacturing industry as a nonprofit by promoting advanced manufacturing technology and developing a skilled workforce. We work closely with manufacturers to share knowledge and resources that generate solutions to meet industry demands.

There are many ways in which we do this, and I could fill up several pages with a list of SME’s benefits and services, but for me, my preference typically leans toward education and its overall importance.

I’ve never tired of learning, which is one of the reasons I’m a big proponent of Tooling U-SME and often steer people in its direction when they talk about their workforce struggles. With over two million manufacturing jobs possibly going unfilled by 2025 as our Baby Boomer generation retires, we can’t shy away from the possibility that our workforce isn’t strong enough to support the rapidly changing world we live in—we have to do something about it. If your current workforce is struggling to keep up or you know someone who’s on the fence about a career in manufacturing and what it has to offer, steer them Tooling U-SME’s way. Have them take a course and see what they think—we’d love another happy customer!

Not only am I a big proponent of education, I’m also a true believer in research and development. I want to learn all I can about cutting-edge technologies that can make the lives of small, medium and large manufacturers easier, more productive and profitable. Through SME, I’ve been able to participate in its North American Manufacturing Research Institution (NAMRI) and annual North American Manufacturing Research Conference (NAMRC). NAMRC is now in its 44th year, which means the technical innovations and concepts highlighted at the conference and published in its proceedings have eventually made their way into commercial applications, benefitting all of us. 

This year’s conference will be taking place June 27–July 1 at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA. If you want to know what’s next on the horizon, I strongly encourage you to attend NAMRC 44.

We all have a lot to look forward to this year, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve as SME’s president as we embark on the many exciting initiatives planned. If you’d like to learn more about SME and how you can benefit, please visit We’d love to help support your manufacturing endeavors and crucial workforce.


AeroDef Manufacturing 2016

SME’s AeroDef Manufacturing with Composites Manufacturing event will be taking place Feb. 8-10 at the Long Beach Convention Center in Long Beach, CA. During this three-day event, attendees will experience hundreds of aerospace and defense manufacturing solutions and learn about transformative technologies from industry experts. OEMs will be on site to discuss future plans and what’s needed from the extended manufacturing enterprise.

Event highlights include:

A new Aerofied Preferred Supplier Pavilion offers networking opportunities for attendees, prequalified contract suppliers and decision makers from aerospace and defense companies.

High-level keynotes from Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, LMI-Aerospace and The Spaceship Co. will provide in-depth information on the James Webb Space telescope, automation and composites for aerospace.

Comprehensive workshops are going to cover a variety of essential manufacturing topics, including an introduction to composites, tooling for composites manufacturing, additive manufacturing for aerospace, and assembly and joining of composites. A Q&A with Boeing Commercial Airplanes, Abaris Training Resources Inc., Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control, and Smart Blades Inc. are part of each session as well.

To learn more about AeroDef and/or to register, visit


Applicants Needed for

2017-18 Board and Council

SME is currently accepting applications for positions on its 2016-17 Board of Directors and Member Council. The SME Board of Directors, acting as the governing body of SME, has the power to establish business policy for SME, order and conduct professional meetings, and guide its member units. The board has absolute budget authority and complete responsibility for SME’s property.

The SME Member Council leads the member engagement activities of SME’s volunteer networks. It is responsible for assisting SME in recognizing and meeting the needs of its membership in a rapidly changing environment, building on the long-term SME strategic goals, strengthening local activities and formulating recommendations relative to SME membership recruitment, retention and engagement.

To be eligible for consideration, a potential SME international director candidate and/or Member Council representative must be a voting member of SME in good standing for the year preceding his/her nomination. Completed applications must be submitted on or before Feb. 15. The yearly election by the entire voting membership of SME is held in August. To apply, visit



This article was first published in the January 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.

Published Date : 1/6/2016

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