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SME Virtual Network: A New Way to Engage

Adam Cook
By Adam Cook Chief Technical Officer, Alliedstrand, SME Member Since 2014

In manufacturing, the internet is getting quite a bit of attention lately—and for good reason. The Internet is bringing our industry to new frontiers, to the promised land called smart manufacturing.

Smart manufacturing is a broad term and can take different shapes depending on the manufacturing domain in question. Here is a common scenario that I personally deal with often:

Discrete, geographically distributed sensors are scattered throughout a process and are used to capture data. This data is fed into the cloud.

Data captured might be considerable in volume and velocity. The scalable computational resources of the cloud are utilized to analyze these massive datasets inexpensively.

Data is used to train cloud-based artificially intelligent software, which can help humans and machines make better decisions.

Robotics are given the flexibility and freedom to work under the direction of the AI software to adapt dynamically to an ever-changing environment.

New feedback data is collected by sensors and we begin the sequence all over again.

Clearly, the power of the Internet can substantially increase value in a manufacturing operation—particularly one which is large and globally distributed.

Here is the bottom line. If we can utilize the internet to increase the value of a process to a manufacturer, can it also be used, in much the same way, to increase the value of SME membership to a member?

Yes, in fact!

Enter the SME Virtual Network

Last year, I and several others (initially Member Council representatives Ron Gill and Melissa Dochter with guidance provided by SME Membership Chapter Relations Manager Mark Price) set out to build a comprehensive, Internet-based platform that SME members, emerging professionals, students, chapters and other industry stakeholders can use to enrich the membership experience. We launched several “prototype virtual events” and tried several different virtual programs. From these initial trials, we saw extraordinary interest from the members that participated, and this past spring, we formally announced the SME Virtual Network, which is the final product of our vision.

Why Do We Believe in This?

SME chapters are distributed throughout the world. While physical interaction among members is still vitally important, the SME Virtual Network was created to engage remote areas without supporting chapters; busy members who may not have the time to participate in many physical events; professionals who work on different shifts; and to help chapters bridge geographical constraints—all with the goal of improving the entire community. In short, it is designed to enhance the traditional chapter experience, not replace it. The SME Virtual Network brings the SME member experience into the 21st century (along with SME Connect), and creates new and enlightening member engagement strategies.

How Does it Work?

Currently, the SME Virtual Network supports several dimensions that contributors can use to engage virtually with members. Our YouTube channel is the primary medium where we can broadcast live and prerecorded virtual webinars and workshops. We also have a Discord chat server and a discussion forum, both of which are popular for participant Q&A during our workshops.

In keeping with the theme established at the beginning of this column, some of our most popular virtual events are walking members through smart manufacturing topics from start to finish. These include the IIoT, cloud computing, robotics and computer programming.

The SME Virtual Network also embraces open-source. All source code used in virtual events or for the SME Virtual Network infrastructure can be found on our GitHub organization.

How to Get Involved

We are always on the lookout for contributors to join us. Contributors to the SME Virtual Network think outside of the box. They think of new ways of combining their skill sets and the Internet to engage the community in new and exciting ways. There is never an idea we will not discuss and, along with the open-source nature of the SME Virtual Network, there is no engagement platform we cannot build. Will you join us?

To learn more about the SME Virtual Network, check out our website ( Better yet, join our Meetup group so that you are notified when we announce new virtual events.

Seven Elevated to SME College of Fellows

SME has honored key and notable contributors to the technical and educational progress and advancement of manufacturing since 1986 by elevating them to the SME College of Fellows. The 2018 honorees joining this distinguished group have made significant contributions to manufacturing in areas including manufacturing operations, material science, additive manufacturing, virtual prototyping, CAD/CAM, robotics, machine dynamics and control, industrial analytics and system informatics.

The 2018 Class of SME Fellows includes:

Satish T.S. Bukkapatnam, PhD, FSME, Texas A&M University (College Station, TX);
Frank W. Gayle, ScD, FSME, National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST; Gaithersburg, MD);
S. Jack Hu, PhD, FSME, University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, MI);
Bernhard Karpuschewski, Dr.-Ing., FSME, Leibniz IWT University of Bremen (Bremen, Germany);
Ming C. Leu, PhD, FSME, Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla, MO);
Hamid R. Parsaei, PhD, FSME, PE, Texas A&M University (College Station, TX);
John D. Russell, DSc, FSME, Air Force Research Laboratory (Wright Patterson AFB, OH).

Nominations for the 2019 Class of SME Fellows are due Dec. 1. Nominations can be submitted at The landing page also includes links to a profile of the 2018 Class of SME Fellows as well as a PDF of the complete list of SME Fellows.

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