Recently, my Nexight colleague Ross Brindle posted a blog on Nexight’s role in two recently awarded NIST Advanced Manufacturing Technology (AMTech) projects. This post focuses on one of those projects, the Thermal Manufacturing Industries Advanced Technology Consortium and the great opportunities to move this area forward.
First, what is “Thermal Manufacturing” and why is it important? Thermal manufacturing in this context consists of a wide range of heat treating, melting, and other process heating methods and is used in nearly every manufacturing process, as illustrated in the accompanying figure. Advanced thermal manufacturing technologies have the potential to improve the efficiency, productivity, and global competitiveness of a wide range of materials manufacturing and value-added end user industries.
But the many industries involved in some aspect of thermal manufacturing don’t necessarily see themselves as part of the larger whole of the thermal manufacturing sphere. For example, the heat treating industry and the metalcasting industry may not see many immediate overlaps between their manufacturing processes, yet both rely on technologies related to sensors, combustion, heat-resistant materials, and modeling and simulation, to name a few. In fact, there are a number of individual industry technology roadmaps, many developed near the start of the millennium, that identify thermal manufacturing needs, but no comprehensive plan for advancement currently exists. Developing this plan, through facilitated roadmapping and the concurrent establishment of the Thermal Manufacturing Industries Advanced Technology Consortium, is the focus of the NIST AMTech-funded effort.
One of the key success factors for this project will be the broad engagement of many key constituencies in the thermal manufacturing area that are represented on the Leadership Team of the NIST AMTech-funded effort. This engagement is critical to gather diverse inputs and lay the groundwork for eventual implementation of the roadmap. Equipment manufacturers and processing companies, especially small and medium manufacturers, will be involved through the ASM Heat Treating Society, Industrial Heating Equipment Association, and Metal Treating Institute. Specific materials processing groups will be connected through relevant professional societies, including the Forging Industry Association and Association for Iron and Steel Technology. And the R&D community will have inputs through the Center for Heat Treating Excellence, part of the Metals Processing Institute at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, as well as Oak Ridge National Lab.
As the project proceeds over the next 18 months, the various thermal manufacturing communities will be engaged through meetings and workshops to develop the thermal manufacturing roadmap and ultimately establish the Thermal Manufacturing Industries Advanced Technology Consortium. The vision of a “technology cooperative” that can create synergies across current boundaries will emerge. Especially exciting is the potential that this planning activity will lay the groundwork for implementation of the resulting technology roadmap, perhaps through a follow-on implementation grant as envisioned in the AMTech program or even by serving as the mechanism for a Materials Innovation Institute as part of the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation.
But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. With the project kick-off planned for June, we are at the beginning of a promising path, but we must walk…no, run!…down this path with purpose and persistence, to keep the Thermal Manufacturing Industries Advanced Technology Consortium from being another “interesting idea” that falls short of its potential. Nexight is certainly prepared to do everything we can to see this effort succeed and will continue to share our thoughts as well as encourage your involvement over the coming months.