Changwon Suh

The recent launch of the new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (the Institute) by the Obama administration is a good example of how industry is integrating virtual processes (e.g., information technology) with physical processes. This approach—or synthetic systems view—is becoming more common in the manufacturing industry, and will improve manufacturing processes and products while reducing their cost.

As I explained in a previous blog post, the synthetic systems view uses virtual tools to optimize physical manufacturing processes. This enables manufacturers to effectively produce better products at lower costs by making critical connections between the properties and performance of materials, devices, and/or systems. This approach also enables manufacturers to use real-time, computer-driven, decision-making solutions to improve product flows from the supply chain to manufacturers and end-users.

I think smart manufacturing (SM), also called Industry 4.0, will allow the smart engineering movement to demonstrate the power of cyber-physical systems or “the Internet of Things.” Two SM applications stand out in particular:

  • Smart data mining: This is the integration of big, deep data mining into discovery processes (e.g. materials, drugs, etc.). As stated in an Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) press release, this approach “may allow scientists to understand the causes of problems in existing materials and to predict the behaviors of designed materials,” and could produce a new field for materials science and big data, similar to how biology and engineering fused into bioengineering.
  • Smart grid: This technology uses “computer-based remote control and automation” to link power plant electricity delivery network systems to end users. This improves energy efficiency of the overall electricity grid and in users’ homes and workplaces.

The concepts of SM are well reflected in the Institute, which will work with existing National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) institutes. The Institute, led by the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), will focus on technology such as digital process controls and smart sensors to improve manufacturing processes, and will make improvements available to industry via open-source digital platforms, real-time analytic tools, infrastructures, and industrial applications.

For example, the Institute will work with the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) to demonstrate the value of using advanced sensors in the production of carbon fibers and with PowerAmerica to demonstrate how sensors can reduce the energy used to produce advanced wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductors for power electronics.

Nexight Group is proudly helping IACMI and PowerAmerica create and refine their technical roadmaps, which will ensure these two NNMI institutes conduct research and development (R&D) aimed at solving the manufacturing industry’s needs for composites and WBG-based power electronics, respectively. We look forward to seeing how the Institute will advance SM, and to watching the manufacturing industry continue to develop.