As industries worldwide undergo a sea change spurred by fast-moving technologies, how should society define manufacturing? And what are the best ways to improve the efficiency of emerging manufacturing processes?
More than 60 representatives from the national labs, private industry, local counties and municipalities and universities met Thursday at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to discuss those questions and more at the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation’s (CNMI) 3rd Annual Smart Manufacturing conference.
The Lab’s Manager of Strategic Engagements Patrick Dempsey, one of CNMI’s founders, said he hoped the conference would help small businesses learn how to apply smart manufacturing techniques and lead to more collaborations with industry and academic partners.
“Many of them don’t know we’re here, so hosting this event and participating in it gives us exposure and also lets us know what their needs are,” Dempsey said. “We can help the companies, but also learn from them ways we can do things better.”
Established in 2013, CNMI is a nonprofit consortium of industry, research labs, academia, economic development organizations, manufacturers and equipment suppliers, all dedicated to promoting manufacturing competitiveness statewide.
“There is no other U.S.-based organization that brings this many sectors together,” said conference moderator and Sierra Energy Chief Strategist Rob White. “It’s a holistic approach to manufacturing. It’s less about networking and more about alignment.”
Anantha Krishnan, LLNL's associate director for Engineering, called manufacturing one of the Lab’s most important initiatives, emphasizing an “exponential increase” in funding for capabilities such as advanced non-conventional materials, additive manufacturing, bioscience and high performance computing.
“We need to look at unclassified manufacturing capabilities so we can engage industry and academia,” Krishnan said. “We have not traditionally made the effort, (but now) there’s a strong desire to open the Lab to the industrial community.”
The Lab will be adding an Additive Manufacturing Center to the Livermore Valley Open Campus in fall of 2016, said Krishnan, who highlighted the recent collaboration with Autodesk, along with startups spun off from research conducted at the Lab including Cadence Design Systems, Digital Globe and Rambus.
The conference welcomed keynote speaker Dorothy Rothrock, president of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association, and a number of expert panelists. Former Autodesk technology futurist Jordan Brandt spoke of the enormous impact additive manufacturing — or 3D printing — is having on traditional manufacturing.
“I think we do have a new definition for manufacturing -- it’s compiling matter with the case of compiling code, and a lot of that is going on here (at the Lab),” Jordan said. “More people are making their own stuff, which is a good thing. What and how we’re going to be making is going to change. Additive manufacturing will allow us to put things where we want them (and) the things designing them will not be humans, they will be algorithms.”