The conference opened on Saturday, June 2 and concluded, Tuesday, June 5, with plant tours to NASA Glenn Research Center and Lincoln Electric.
On Monday morning, more than 800 engineers packed the ballroom at the Marriott Cleveland Downtown for an elegant breakfast buffet and the early-morning keynote presentation by James M. Free, Deputy Director of NASA GRC.
Free shared the many ways that NASA’s mission is continuing as the focus shifts from the Space Shuttle program to deep space exploration. He also highlighted the way NASA is transferring technology to manufacturing applications here on earth.
As a prime example of NASA’s terrestrial focus, Free gave a shout out to MAGNET and MAGNET’s President & CEO Dan Berry who was in the audience. That kind acknowledgement came as he presented the names of the nine Northeast Ohio companies that recently each won 40 hours of NASA expert technical consultation through the new Manufacturing Innovation Project sponsored by MAGNET, the City of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County.
After Free’s keynote presentation, attendees had a chance to storm out into the lobby, grab a quick cup of coffee and view table-top presentations created by the participants in the SME’s first annual Student Competition.
Students from eight engineering schools entered the competition: Ohio Northern University, University of Colorado Denver, Northern Illinois University, University of Akron, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Punjab Engineering College, Oregon State University and Texas State University. The judging occurred Monday morning and competition winners were announced Monday evening.
Late morning, the SME members got down to the real nitty gritty in the General Session called “Industry Trends & Developments.” Seven speakers from SME’s Technical Communities each got 15 minutes to present the bleeding edge technology in each advanced manufacturing specialty:
- Automated Manufacturing & Assembly (AMAC)
- Forming & Fabricating
- Industrial Laser Technology
- Manufacturing Education & Research
- Plastics, Composites & Coatings
- Product & Process Design & Management
- Rapid Technologies & Additive Manufacturing
Nearly 300 attendees at this session were wowed by these presentations. Particularly impressive were the astonishing advances presented in industrial lasers, and the game-changing possibilities that are just on the horizon of commercialization with additive manufacturing.
Monday afternoon’s presentations were split into three tracks, and MAGNET chose to attend “Innovations That Could Change the Way You Manufacture.” This time, each presenter had around 50 minutes to present his research speciality in some detail. What an eye-opener!
S. Joe Qin, a researcher and professor at the University of Southern California, presented on “Model Predictive Control.” This complex analytic software has been developed over the last 30 years to help large petrochemical plants minutely control the myriad functions involved in processing petrochemical end products. Qin reviewed the future potential of the technology and discussed how it is already being implemented in other industries, including HVAC, energy optimization, medical devices and food production.
Scott Liu of SRL NANO Corporation described the advances being made in “Hyper-Carbide Cutting Tools.” By combining powdered carbide and powdered ceramics with special binders at very high temperatures and pressures, Liu and his team have created super-high hardness cutting tools with brand new properties. These tools can be used to cut and shape the new kinds of materials being created for automobile and aerospace applications. Liu said these hyper-carbide cutting tools are on the verge of commercialization.
Finally, Brian McHugh of AV&R Vision & Robotics, based in Montreal, used slides and videos to demonstrate the company’s unique robotic system that can profile jet turbine fan blades to virtual perfection. AV&R’s robot clasps a fan blade and presents it to a 2-D camera for an image. That image is digitally analyzed and the company’s software algorithm creates a set of unique instructions for the robot to profile the leading and trailing edges of that particular blade. After the profile is cut, the robot presents the blade to the camera again, and the finished blade is analyzed again to ensure it is within the tiny designated tolerances. McHugh stated that his company is the only one in North America currently making these custom robotic systems. He also stated that his company’s products are already being used in the new, fuel-efficient engines of the Boeing 737MAX and the Airbus A32x NEO which were recently launched on the market. And he added that AV&R is being approached by manufacturers in other industries who are hoping to adapt the company’s technology.
After such an intense day learning about the latest advanced manufacturing innovations, the SME attendees kicked back for a sumptuous awards dinner and after party celebrations. But they were up again early on Tuesday for another set of presentations on manufacturing innovations, before leaving in the afternoon to visit either NASA Glenn Research Center of Lincoln Electric.
Next year’s SME Annual Conference will be in sunny Orlando, Florida. Judging by the richness of this year’s presentations, it would be well worth the trip!