Helping Industry Transition to the New Era

In this exclusive interview with Dean Bartles of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, Bartles highlights the organization’s current work with industry, future plans, its biggest obstacles, and combined efforts with industry, academia, government and regional resources.

Dean Bartles, DMDII
Dean Bartles, DMDII

Just as the industrial sector found itself coming to comfortable terms with the broad use of Ethernet on the plant floor and the expansion of wireless communication beyond applications on rotating machinery or hard-to-access devices—BAM! Industry found itself in the early stages of the next industrial revolution.

Suddenly, the piecemeal adoption of a few new technologies at a time over several years—the standard practice in industry—would no longer be enough. Technology is changing too fast for that approach to remain viable. Production uptime and safety will, of course, always come first for industry; but they can no longer be used as excuses to avoid exploration and testing of new technologies.

Given this reality, a number of organizations have been created to help industry bridge the gap between its analog past and digital future. One of these organizations is the Chicago-based Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). DMDII is a federally funded research and development organization within UI Labs that encourages factories across America to deploy digital manufacturing and design technologies so those factories can “become more efficient and cost-competitive.” (Read more Automation World coverage of DMDII.)

I recently had an opportunity to speak with DMDII’s executive director Dean Bartles (who is also the chief manufacturing officer at UI Labs) about the work DMDII is doing to help ensure that manufacturers are not left behind by this new industrial revolution.

NOTE: Bartles will deliver the opening keynote address at The Automation Conference & Expo in Chicago on May 24, detailing DMDII’s work with industry in greater detail and answering your questions. Follow this link to register.

Automation World: Explain how DMDII and its focus on digital manufacturing fits in with Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Dean Bartles: The Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0 are firmly integrated into DMDII and the realm of digital manufacturing. These terms collectively are sometimes referred to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” The mission of DMDII, which is to digitize American manufacturing, is meant to usher in this next industrial revolution and to prepare and equip the nation’s manufacturers to participate in and lead the transformation of the entire sector.

While much of the discussion around IoT has centered on its potential to impact the consumer economy, the promise that IoT holds for the industrial sector is even greater. Hooking every machine tool on every shop floor in every plant in the country to the cloud and streaming real time data so that predictive analytics can be performed will change the face of manufacturing in the future, and we believe DMDII will take part in leading the way.

AW: Looking back on DMDII’s first year in operation, what would you characterize as the Institute’s biggest successes and biggest obstacles?

DB: DMDII has so far publicly announced the award of $22 million in R&D projects to 41 organizations. The institute has also opened two regional chapters in the Midwest, expanding our reach and sharing lessons with many more organizations. We have also had successes that are more operational in nature, which is essential to accomplishing our mission, such as getting over 180 members—ranging from Fortune 50 to universities to small-to-medium manufacturing shops—to agree to the same contract terms and sign on as members of our consortium.

One of our challenges is connecting with as many small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as possible and showing them how the digital revolution is applicable within their businesses. We expect that the Digital Manufacturing Commons, what we refer to as the “Facebook and app store of manufacturing,” can help us get the message and the tools out to SMEs across the country.

AW: DMDII’s work seems more focused on the discrete manufacturing industries (i.e., automotive, aerospace, consumer packaged goods). However, many of the projects would appear to have applicability in the process industries as well. How would you characterize DMDII’s focus as it pertains to industry as a whole and to the process industries, in particular?

DB: DMDII’s focus spans across many different industries. DMDII sponsors R&D projects aligned with our three technology thrust categories: Advanced Manufacturing Enterprise, Intelligent Machining and Advanced Analysis. No matter the industry, it is crucial that manufacturing shops and their standard processes begin their transition from the dreaded “Ds”—dumb, dark, dirty and dangerous—to a new era in which “digital manufacturing,” “smart manufacturing,” and “brilliant factory” are all common speak.

AW: To date, what segments of industry have been most involved with DMDII?

DB: Interest has been fairly well dispersed with regard to our Institute. In terms of broader digital manufacturing technologies, maximum information technology investment is best exemplified in continuous processing operations like those seen in the chemicals area. However, aerospace companies are moving up fast!

AW: Explain DMDII’s role in the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

DB: DMDII is one of seven existing National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) Institutes. Each individual institute has its own concentration area, ranging from DMDII’s focus on digital manufacturing to lightweight metals, flexible hybrid electronics and additive manufacturing. While each Institute strives to make progress within its respective concentration, the combined efforts will improve information flows among industry, academia and government to leverage regional resources to accelerate innovation in manufacturing across the United States and move technologies to commercialization more rapidly.

This network allows for sharing of best practices among the institutes, such that when one institute breaks ground in a particular area, all of the NNMI can benefit. One such example within DMDII is the issuance of a project call to create a “specialization” in digital manufacturing and design on a massive open online course in partnership with Coursera. This specialization will serve as the premier information tool for students and the current workforce looking to better understand digital manufacturing.

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