ISE Gets Smart

President Obama announces that NC State and ISE will lead a new hub of the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute

On June 20th, President Obama revealed that NC State will lead the southeast hub for the new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (SMII). the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) partnered with the Department of Energy (DOE) to form the SMII with the goal of increasing manufacturing growth in the U.S. They hope to make the deployment of advanced sensors, controls, platforms and modeling cheaper and more energy efficient, reducing the cost by 50 percent, improving energy productivity by 50 percent, and increasing energy efficiency by 15 percent.

The southeast hub is one of five and their locations are as follows:

  • Southeast hub led by NC State in Raleigh
  • California regional hub led by UCLA in Los Angeles, CA
  • Gulf Coast hub led by Texas A&M in College Station, TX
  • Northeast hub led by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY
  • Northwest hub led by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland, WA

“It is an opportunity to work on the next generation of manufacturing,” ISE Department Head Paul Cohen tells the NC State Technician. “It gives us an ability to work with other universities, with national laboratories and most importantly with companies to be able to innovate.”

The U.S. hopes to return to an international manufacturing prominence and continue to create manufacturing jobs (roughly 800,000 manufacturing jobs since February 2010).

“People do a lot of basic research, usually at universities, and then eventually companies want to do implementation but there’s what they call the ‘Valley of Death’ between,” Cohen said. “So the idea of these institutes is for universities and national labs to work with companies to bridge that gap and take things that may be more basic research and figure out how to get it to a point where companies can take it and run with it.”

Cohen added that this initiative came from the need to take the volumes of viable research that are exist and get it to a point that corporations can to put it to use.

“Companies may not have research staff so there may be papers or work that’s going on at a university and they say ‘That’s interesting, but we don’t have the manpower,’” Cohen explained. “Maybe there’s too much risk to take it from [the research stage] to where they’re ready to use it.”

SMLC named Professor Phillip Westmoreland as the executive director of the hub, which will be on Centennial Campus. Westmoreland is the former president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers and served as NC State’s representative to the SMLC where he pushed hard for NC State to take a large role in the SMII.

Westmoreland described the role that the SMII will have on campus as one of coordinating “test beds” where a team of SMII researchers works with a company to find the best solutions to their problems.

“We’ll go with a company and do a large-scale implementation,” Cohen said. “We might put in a smart manufacturing system so that rather than just running your plant, you can collect and use data to predict what will happen and then make adjustments to minimize the energy footprint and cost of what you’re doing.”