We canvassed leaders from the innovation institutes in the Manufacturing USA network to see how their efforts are helping the U.S. secure global leadership for emerging technologies in the critical strategic industries of defense, health and medical security, energy, and semiconductors and microelectronics.
The Manufacturing USA network has grown to include 16 manufacturing innovation institutes that connect people, ideas, and technology to accelerate and de-risk technology development and scale up through an ecosystem of government research institutions, universities, and private sector industry members. Collectively, the institutes have advanced 270 technologies toward commercialization.
We asked these leaders how innovations will help capture domestic manufacturing value for these industries and how they are lowering hurdles so that U.S. manufacturers can adopt these leading technologies.
The institutes are all public-private partnerships that use a similar approach to drive innovation that can be foundational across their specialty:
- Funding through project calls, grants and private sector investments
- Capital equipment for prototyping new technology that is ripe for development
- Partnerships that provide expertise and networking for companies to innovate where they manufacture
Here are highlights from the responses from America Makes, the ARM Institute, MxD, and NextFlex.
Transformations in the advanced manufacturing arena are taking place in materials, processes, applications, products, job roles, and more.
We asked: What are the opportunities that these innovations present?
Additive Manufacturing technologies intrinsically represent a paradigm shift in product acquisition offering shorter lead times, assembly part count reduction, and distributed manufacturing. America Makes' efforts over the past 10 years have benefited our national ability to qualify metal and polymer AM products, address supply chain shortages, enable gap-bridging production, and bolster defense sustainment.
Today's factories use wired connections for equipment and systems, but wired networks become expensive to install and can be very inflexible. Wireless offers the flexibility and mobility required by successful factories of the future. However, not all wireless is suitable for all manufacturing applications. 5G is the first wireless technology that can address the concerns of operational environments. The software-defined nature of 5G allows for flexible customization of networks to tailor to high bandwidth, a high number of devices, and low levels of latency applications demanded of digitally enabled factories. 5G's enhanced security over other wireless technologies also offers increased cybersecurity implementations.
Read more from MxD
Flexible Hybrid Electronics
FHE is an emerging field that is projected to take off within the next two years. Since there is not an established global manufacturing leader, the U.S. is well positioned with leadership in R&D and manufacturers to claim the leadership position in this manufacturing sector. FHE manufacturing is particularly suited to U.S. manufacturing because it aligns with high-mix/low-volume production and is not reliant on low-cost labor for economical production.
The U.S. has been a global leader in applied manufacturing research and development for more than a century. Yet many innovators go overseas to scale up for manufacturing, and some have even built innovative production facilities overseas.
We asked: How does your institute help the U.S. capture the value added from these technological innovations in our domestic manufacturing and supply chains?
Over half of the technological solutions created by the ARM Institute consortium members have transitioned to use by our members and industry. In some instances, this technology came directly from early-stage companies that connected with other member organizations who needed the technology. This is especially important to meet our nation's stated goal to re-shore and invigorate U.S. manufacturing, which is hampered by a shortage of skilled labor, which drives the need for automation and robotics.
The limiting factor of innovation is still a human one. While many innovations in advanced manufacturing will require STEM knowledge, the vast majority of jobs in the future will not require an advanced degree but will be held by employees with bachelor and associate degrees and/or professional certifications.
We asked: What are the needs and opportunities your institute is addressing in building a skilled workforce to support these innovations?
Digital technology cannot be implemented without people trained to install, operate, and maintain it. All planned MxD 5G projects have comprehensive “lessons learned” required in the deliverables. These lessons learned are shared with industry and government when the project is completed. In addition, one of the MxD 5G projects, “Wired to Wireless Change Management Guide,” was recently released for public RFP and will be executed early next year. The output of this project will focus on the knowledge needed by manufacturers to implement 5G in their operations.
There is a dire need for robotics technicians; on any given day there are over 20,000 open jobs specifically to operate and maintain robotics. Oftentimes, those in the manufacturing labor force do not have those skills, or young people are not aware of the educational programs available to help them gain the skills and competencies needed for a career in robotics. That's why the ARM Institute created a national resource found at www.roboticscareer.org, which includes information about vetted education programs – from micro-credentials to PhDs, and a job matching function to find robotics jobs that best meet their current skill sets.
The wide-scale adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies is dependent upon providing proof of value to the end users who must make the financial investments in products, services and people.
We asked: What are tipping points you see that will lead to more wide-scale adoption of these innovations?
The first major tipping point is a more expansive knowledge base for those producing AM parts, those regulating these industries, and those procuring AM parts. There continues to be a significant need for data and understanding, which will readily allow the expansive adoption of the technology. Key elements to this understanding include material behavior, testing and inspection techniques (and their associated costs), and product scale demonstration of performance.
Flexible Hybrid Electronics
FHE is at a tipping point now. Two critical needs for accelerated adoption are development of standards for FHE devices and greater availability of data on proven long-term reliability. As FHE products scale up and become more widespread, fast followers will begin to move into the field, which will enable exponential growth.