There are a number of megatrends impacting manufacturing at the moment: Big Data, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the demand for product customization, the corporate responsibility associated with the environmental footprint, as well as pressure to compete in a global market. All of this creates a new set of challenges that directly impact the design and production of products.
And, as we enter the age of digital manufacturing, the focus is on connecting all of this information for greater value. But figuring out how to do that is a big undertaking that can’t be solved by a single organization. Rather, to obtain and industrial transformation, it requires a community of established companies, startups, universities and government cooperating on research, development and deployment of cutting-edge technologies.
Enter UI Labs, the first-of-its kind innovation engine of sorts, that acts as a catalyst to unite these “unnatural alliances,” using best practices for co-development and establishing ground rules to take the risk out while quickly ramping up projects. In February of 2014, UI Labs formed its first lab called the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). The goal: To transform American manufacturing through digitization of the supply chain.
Focused on game-changing digital technologies, DMDII is creating new ways to move products from design to prototype to manufacturing to quality control to shipping out the door. The goal is to do all of this more effectively and less expensively in order to be more competitive.
“We want the factory environment to be more intelligent,” said Brench Boden, the CTO of DMDII during his keynote presentation at The Automation Conference & Expo, which took place last month in Chicago. Most importantly, it’s about creating jobs—not using technology to take work away. “I’m not a fan of those visions of factories fully automated with no humans. We need to augment what humans are good at.”
To that end, the DMDII projects focus on strategic technology structures, including:
- Advanced Manufacturing Enterprise (AME) – Includes the integration of information systems across the product lifecycle, digital links between design and fabrication, and smart manufacturing practices within the factory and the supply chain.
- Intelligent Machines (IM)– The integration of smart sensors and controls with equipment to create a self-aware manufacturing model.
- Advanced Analysis (AA)—Including data analysis, algorithms and computing technologies.
Of course, within these groups, there is always consideration for the design of the digital thread and cybersecurity. In addition, the “America Makes” initiative takes digital design initiatives to another level by leveraging additive manufacturing and 3D printing.
The research and development focus is on crossing over the “valley of death,” which is where early-stage projects go to die when there is a lack of a guaranteed return on investment. “We are identifying the promising technology and working risk out so it is ready to solve industrial problems,” Boden said, thereby closing the gap between research and commercialization.
To do that, DDMII is working in better metrology systems to capture data from the measurement process in order to understand what the real state of a part is, for example, as it is sent to the next stage of the manufacturing process.
Ultimately, it’s about solving problems, Boden said. With over 200 members, 52 projects currently in the works, and about 23 projects actually underway at DDMII’s test facility on Goose Island in Chicago, manufacturing in America is getting a much-needed boost to be a formidable force in the future.