Warren Hunt
ICME for All: Coming Soon?
Warren HuntMay 23, 2013

Integrated computational materials engineering (ICME) has been demonstrated as a cost- and time-saving approach to materials development and manufacturing implementation for large organizations with sizable budgets. But when will it become a tool that is feasible for more widespread use?

A recent article by The Minerals, Metals and Materials Society (TMS), “Opening the Throttle on Innovation,” made me think that a vehicle analogy might be a good way to describe the current state of ICME. My view is that the ICME vehicle is currently a high-performance Formula 1 race car—it is a costly, high-performance product that requires a very well-trained and experienced driver and must be supported by an expert crew. Once ICME becomes a “family car”—a lower-cost product for the common engineer that requires much less specialized training to operate—more widespread use and accelerated innovation will likely result. “Opening the throttle” of the innovation that goes on every day for materials-intensive products via ICME is what we need to aspire to. To me, the promise of ICME will be realized when it becomes widely used not only by large companies but also by small and medium enterprises—not the sole province of the Ph.D. specialist, but a tool used routinely in engineering like finite element analysis is today.

Two activities—one nearing fruition and one just announced—will be important elements in broadening the use of ICME in this way.

Less than a year ago, TMS was funded to lead a study by the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation aimed at recommending key steps for the rapid implementation of ICME for structural materials used in lightweighting systems. As part of the study, volunteer teams facilitated by Nexight Group identified a number of activities that can accelerate the adoption of ICME within existing materials and product development processes in the automotive, aerospace, and maritime sectors. Overall, the goal is to produce a “field manual” on how to implement ICME in these sectors and others. The study report is expected to be issued prior to this year’s ICME Congress in July, and it promises to be an important step toward “ICME for all.”

Accelerating this transition is something that the recently introduced Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) Institute will further address. As one of the three Manufacturing Innovation Institutes promised in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union speech, it is squarely focused on leveraging ICME and realizing the ambitious goals of the Materials Genome Initiative for lightweight metals and third-generation steels. While it has a strong defense focus due to its Office of Naval Research and Department of Defense funding, it also highlights the pervasive impacts in energy, transportation, and other engineered systems that can result from greater availability and access to an integrated approach. If successful, this effort could be the impetus we need to get ICME into more general use.

I am especially encouraged by how LM3I Institute progress will be driven through the regional innovation ecosystems model of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation that I’ve reviewed previously in this blog, as it has the potential to lend focus to what has been a somewhat dispersed effort to date. I’ll certainly be talking more about the TMS ICME study when it is released as well as the LM3I Institute as Nexight works to support its development. To me, both of these initiatives look like giant steps toward the goal: ICME for all!