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Skating Ahead of the Puck — Seeing What’s Next

Lou Dorworth
By Louis C. "Lou" Dorworth Abaris Training Inc. and 2018 SME Member Council Representative

According to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., “The way we look at manufacturing is this: The US’s strategy should be to skate where the puck is going, not where it is.”

Cook’s quotation reflects a good strategy for any individual, company or organization looking to be competitive in a future marketplace. Fortunately for me, I got my first taste of this idea in the late 1970s working at LearAvia Corp., a small, innovative, forward-looking aircraft company that designed and manufactured the Lear Fan 2100, the very first all carbon-fiber composite aircraft—something that had never been done before.

The project was the brainchild of the late William P. “Bill” Lear, a self-taught electrical engineer and industrialist best known for the Learjet. Lesser known is that he also co-founded Motorola and was responsible for inventing such things as the autopilot system, the eight-track cassette tape and many other pioneering products that revolutionized industry. One could say that Bill Lear had a knack for “skating where the puck is going.” It’s an idea that I studied early in my career and still strive for every day.

Reach Out to Find What’s Next

I find through my own experience that the best way for me to assess what is coming down the pike is to reach out to those in industry (and academia) and engage with the people who are working on “what’s next.” Whether it be new materials, new equipment, new processes or just learning about other trends that will reshape industry, embracing what is coming next always helps develop our collective wisdom and paves the way to recognizing future objectives.

This mantra applies to every industry, but is especially important with rapidly evolving technologies such as composites or additive manufacturing, whereas new and more advanced materials and processes emerge almost daily. Since many companies and organizations use these high-tech materials and related technologies, it is imperative that their personnel are up to speed not only on the way it is done today, but also the way it will be done tomorrow. How is it that we will keep up with all this and find the resources needed to stay ahead of the curve?

This is where membership in SME is so helpful to young professionals and seasoned veterans alike. For example, over the past two decades I have used the SME Technical Communities (TC) to make new connections and develop a large network of contacts that have expertise within my industry (composites), as well as others involved in crossover technologies such as additive manufacturing, automation and process simulation.

Over the years, my personal involvement with SME’s Plastics, Composites & Coatings Community (PCC) and the Composites Manufacturing Tech Group has been my primary means of networking with SME peers. Over time, I have had the privilege of serving as a member, chair-elect and chair of both the tech group and the PCC. This experience has also led to my participation as an advisor to the AeroDef Manufacturing Conference Steering Committee, which solicits and screens composite manufacturing-related technical content for the conference. You can imagine how much insight about future trends can be gained by participating in that endeavor!

The abovementioned groups and subcommittees meet by phone monthly, and face-to-face annually at the AeroDef Manufacturing Conference. Each year at the conference, the group presents community-sponsored awards such as the Excellence in Composites Manufacturing Awards and the J.H. “Jud” Hall Composites Manufacturing Award in recognition of both corporate and personal contributions to the composite manufacturing industry. (This year AeroDef will be held March 26–29, at the Long Beach Convention Center, Long Beach, CA.)

In addition to all this, I would invite readers to check out the newly formed online beta interest groups, which add even another means of acquiring knowledge through SME. These groups are made up of members and nonmembers who discuss topics specific to their interests. Currently, there are five groups assembling on subjects such as Safety & Productivity; Simulation-Driven Engineering; Monitoring & Maintaining the Digital Factory; and 3D Printing for Medicine, Biotechnology and Pharmaceutical.

This editorial illustrates the way that I have used the many resources within SME to prepare for the future—the question is this: How are you going to skate to where the puck is going, and how are you going to get there first? (I think you may have found the answer.)

If you’d like to learn more about how to get involved with SME, please feel free to reach out to any of us on the SME Member Council ( or through SME Connect (

NAMRC 46 Slated for Texas A&M

The 46th North American Research Conference (NAMRC 46) will take place June 18–22 at Texas A&M University (College Station, TX). NAMRC is the premier international forum on manufacturing research. More than 800 international researchers and manufacturers are expected to attend and share the latest manufacturing innovations and developments in manufacturing and cyber-physical systems and materials processing.

This year’s conference will include keynotes, expert panels, student poster and presentation competitions, an exhibition of industry partners, an early career forum, industry tours and awards ceremony.

Currently, there are eight conference tracks scheduled for the event:

Manufacturing Systems – General Submission
Manufacturing Processes – General Submission
Additive Manufacturing
Smart Manufacturing and Cyber-Physical Systems
Manufacturing Education, Workforce Development and Outreach
Industrial Applications and Manufacturing Implementation
A Symposium on Manufacturing Public Policy: Influence R&D Investment
NAMRI/SME David Dornfeld Manufacturing Vision Award and Blue Sky Competition

During the awards ceremony, six awards will be given out, recognizing and honoring individuals for their service, contributions and outstanding manufacturing research.

NAMRC Student Research Presentation Award
NAMRI/SME David Dornfeld Manufacturing Vision Award
NAMRI/SME Outstanding Lifetime Service Award
Outstanding Paper Award
Founders Lecture
S.M. Wu Research Implementation Award

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