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A renaissance for American manufacturing
The innovative use of lightweight composite materials, shown here in the “Numerette,” a 29-foot speedboat designed and built by Joachim Grenestedt, professor of mechanical engineering and mechanics…

Lehigh will share $70 million in federal, state and private funding as part of a new Ohio-Pennsylvania-West Virginia “Tech Belt Consortium” initiative to revitalize American manufacturing through additive manufacturing technology, advanced innovation and a workforce capable of meeting industry needs.

The new consortium, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), includes research universities, community colleges and non-profit organizations from three states, along with private manufacturing firms nationwide. It will link academia with private industry, particularly small manufacturers, to provide direct access to the latest research and equipment while educating workers in advanced additive manufacturing skills.

Selected through a competitive process, the award of $30 million in federal funding (from the Departments of Defense, Energy and Commerce, the National Science Foundation and NASA) will be matched by $40 million from the winning consortium. It is the first of 15 planned technical hubs spread around the nation with the aim of reasserting the nation’s historical position as the world’s most innovative producer.

The official announcement was made Aug. 16 in Youngstown, Ohio, by Rebecca Blank, acting U.S. Commerce Secretary. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett also announced $5 million in state funding.

The digital edge

Additive manufacturing, of which so-called 3-D printing is an example, is a new method of making products and components from digital models by combining thin layers of metal, ceramic or other materials into complex shapes and parts.

Contrasted with traditional methods of making parts by cutting material away from stock or forming individual components in expensive molds, additive manufacturing has implications for a wide range of industrial and consumer products.

The Department of Defense sees additive manufacturing as a way to create on-site, customized parts that would otherwise be too expensive to make or ship.

“Additive manufacturing is an important new way of making things that we use in our everyday lives,” said Alan W. Snyder, vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies. “In addition to major impacts on how things are made, we look forward to revolutionary changes in what can be made. We are gratified that our depth in materials science, structural engineering and composites, manufacturing systems, and supply chain management can contribute to this program, and we look forward to the broader range of contributions we can make as the field grows and matures.”

Leaner and greener

The technology also has the potential to eliminate tooling costs and reduce material waste. The Department of Energy anticipates that additive processes will cut manufacturing energy use in half compared to today’s processes, in which components are built individually and assembled.

NAMII is led by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining and includes 40 private companies (like Honeywell, Boeing and IBM), nine research universities including Lehigh, four community colleges including Northampton Community College (NCC), and 11 trade associations and other nonprofit organizations. NCC will contribute manufacturing prototype facilities and labs, and provide workforce training.

“We are proud to be among the many talented organizations tasked with contributing to a renaissance in American manufacturing,” said William Michalerya, associate vice president for government relations and economic development. “Our participation in the Tech Belt Consortium is a recognition of the talent of our faculty and student researchers and of Lehigh’s reputation among the region’s public and private entities as a willing and effective partner.”

A diverse team of Lehigh researchers, initially from the departments of materials science and engineering, civil and environmental engineering, industrial and systems engineering, mechanical engineering and mechanics, will contribute their expertise in a number of areas:

• Supply chain optimization that can shorten lead times in small and large jobs and speed the commercialization of products.
• New composite materials that are lightweight, but strong and corrosion-resistant, for the construction of large complex structures with only a few parts like aircraft wings, boat hulls, and decks.
• Advanced materials fabrication to make fabricated parts that are more reliable. Recent experimental breakthroughs at Lehigh in “grain boundaries” have led to a greater understanding of material strength, toughness and oxidation resistance.
• Manufacturing process efficiency to optimize the factory floor, including layout, line balancing, planning of workloads and process simulation to increase throughput and reliability.
• Laser solid forming that can be used to build complex 3-D metallic parts directly from computer models. The Lehigh team will develop new simulation capabilities from improved and more efficient laser forming with multiple laser heat sources.

The Tech Belt Consortium

Forty companies: Allegheny Technologies, AlphaMicron, Applied Systems and Technology Transfer, Autodesk, Boeing, Catalyst Connection, Energy Industries of Ohio, ExOne, FMW Composites, General Dynamics, General Electric, Honeywell, IBM, Johnson Controls, Kennametal, Kent Displays, Laser Technology Assts, Lockheed Martin, Lubrizol, M-7 Technologies, MicroFab Technologies, Morris, Northrop Grumman, nScrypt, OSRAM Sylvania, Optomec, Oxford Performance Materials, Paramount Industries / 3D Systems, Parker Hannifin, Plextronix, POM, RTI, Ruger, Sciaky, Stratasys, Stratonics, Timken, Touchstone Research Lab, Westinghouse Nuclear, Wohlers Associates

Nine research universities: Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Kent State, Lehigh, Penn State, Robert Morris, Akron, Pittsburgh and Youngstown State

Five community colleges: Eastern Gateway, Lorain County, Northampton and Westmoreland County, and Penn College of Technology

Eleven nonprofit organizations: Association for Manufacturing Technology, Ben Franklin Technology Partners, JumpStart Ohio, Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, MT Connect, NorTech, National Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Consortium, Ohio Aerospace Institute, Robert C. Byrd Institute, the Youngstown Business Incubator, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers