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Inevitable Change Equals Opportunity

Mark L. Michalski
By Mark L. Michalski 2019 SME President, SME Member Since 1992

A single phone call changed my life forever. In 2003, I was sitting in my office at a fuel cell manufacturing company where I was vice president of operations. A voice on the other end of the line said, “Hello, my name is Mark Tomlinson. I’m calling as a representative of the SME Manufacturing Enterprise Council.”

Puzzled but intrigued, I asked Mark what I could do for him. He described the MEC as a body within SME that was a gathering of individuals examining trends that would affect real change in the way we

At that point, I had been an SME member since 1992 and had only been involved at the local chapter level.

I asked, “OK, so what does that have to do with me?”

He said, “We would like you to join us.” It was then that my world changed forever.

Since that day, I’ve had the opportunity to work as an SME volunteer in many capacities; as a Member Council chair, traveling the country as a part of the Leadership Series team meeting with our members and now as the 2019 SME president. I have learned many things along the way. I have learned that technology changes more rapidly than we can keep up. My most important reflection on SME, however, is that the people I have met have changed my life.

We are in a time when technology is making revolutionary, not evolutionary change. The changes we see now used to be fictional elements of “Star Trek” and “Star Wars” movies. Advances such as artificial intelligence, collaborative robotics, virtual reality and 3D printing are a real part of our lives and the way we work. Blockchain technology will likely change the way we transact the supply chain. Our work is rapidly evolving to be unrecognizable from the way we do it today.

As these transformations occur, we all are scrambling to understand the technology that enables these innovations and how we can use them. What we tend to overlook is the effect this has on people.

Clearly, moving through these transitions will require more focus on knowledge distribution. Certainly, we need to train people who are in the current workforce, but we also need to plan for the members of the future community of manufacturing. I use the term “community” to recognize that the workforce is no longer compartmentalized. Technology connects us now more than ever—including the production floor, engineering, supply chain and executive office. However, people, not technology, will be the biggest challenge. We need to rethink the human supply chain.

Much has been said about the shortage of workers advancing through STEM training, and I can happily state that we have made significant progress in this area. Yet with all the successes we have seen, there is still inadequate clarity as to the content and delivery methods we will need to equip workers of the future. A report quoted in the Huffington Post by the Institute for the Future stated that 85 percent of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not even been invented yet. Clearly, we do not even know what will make up the workforce deficit.

Change is needed not only in skills and how we deliver knowledge but also the culture of the way we work. We need to accept change in the way we communicate and consume information. A young colleague of mine recently said “If you want an answer, sending a text or email is so yesterday.” Communication now happens in short blasts populated by acronyms that are created faster than we can keep up. Our language is evolving; whether that is good or bad remains to be seen.

A welcome change is the evolution toward increasing diversity in manufacturing as more women and minorities join our industry. This change is long overdue, yet it will also transform the way we communicate and interact.

In the past year, SME itself has also undergone some significant changes. We have moved to beautiful new headquarters in Southfield, Mich. Our new space was specifically designed to foster improved communication and innovation. We have made and will continue to make changes in our organizational structure. We are striving to position ourselves to serve the community of manufacturing in ways that will evolve with technology, people and the way we work.

I’m happy to say that the people of SME have always been on the forefront of change. We continue to be a nexus of technological change and the source for manufacturing knowledge. Our community is made up of over 300,000 people across a wide spectrum of industries, academia and government. Our trade shows and events such as RAPID + TCT and the Smart Manufacturing Experience are prime examples of connecting knowledge and people to advanced technologies. Our media group continues to provide ever-increasing digital content. Tooling U-SME and the SME Education Foundation are expanding their offerings and partnerships to ensure a well-equipped workforce.

As science fiction writer William Gibson said, “The future is here—it is just not evenly distributed.” SME is the premier manufacturing knowledge distribution system. That distribution system is made up of its people. My connection started with a single phone call that changed my life forever. No matter how you connect, or what change the future holds, remember that making connections to those willingly embracing change is the key to the success of our community. Thank you for letting me join you on the journey.

2019 Digital Manufacturing Challenge

For the 2019 Digital Manufacturing Challenge, cross-functional teams are challenged to leverage the design freedom inherent in additive manufacturing to simplify or integrate features and functions while simultaneously reducing size, weight, and increasing the efficiency of a thermal management system, process, or device. A virtual prototype should be created comprehending one or more of the seven available additive manufacturing processes.

Contestants must recommend and justify their additive design, process and material selections through their research and cost-benefit/value analysis and must also include a discussion of all manufacturing considerations to achieve the form, function and capability/performance claimed.

Entries must be submitted before 12 a.m. ET Monday, March 4, 2019, to be considered. Submissions are welcome from both college/university students and high school students. The two categories will be judged separately. Winners will be recognized at SME’s RAPID + TCT 2019 event, May 20-23, at the Cobo Center in Detroit. Visit for more information.

Two Leaders In U.S. Manufacturing Innovation Join Oak Ridge National Laboratory

2018 SME President Thomas Kurfess, PhD, FSME, PE

SME is happy to announce that two high-profile members—2018 SME President Thomas Kurfess, PhD, FSME, PE, and 2008-09 president of SME’s North American Manufacturing Research Institution (NAMRI) Scott Smith, PhD, FSME—are joining the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Oakridge, Tenn.) to support its pioneering research in advanced manufacturing.

Kurfess and Smith’s expertise in control systems and machine tooling expand the capabilities of the DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, and their broad experience with industry, academia, and the public sector will enhance lab partnerships and promote adoption of new technologies by U.S. manufacturers.

Kurfess will spearhead the development of new manufacturing platforms and control systems that will enable autonomous manufacturing through robotics and controls. He comes to ORNL from Georgia Tech (Atlanta), where he is the HUSCO/Ramirez distinguished chair in fluid power and motion control and professor of mechanical engineering.

2008-09 president of SME’s North American Manufacturing Research Institution Scott Smith, PhD, FSME

Smith, professor and chair of mechanical engineering at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, will lead ORNL’s advanced machining and machine tool research, focused on developing the systems, processes, sensors, and controls needed to reinvigorate the U.S. industrial base and bolster national security. His teaching and research areas include high-speed machining, process optimization, and machine dynamics.

The Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL is supported by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Advanced Manufacturing Office. Learn more at

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