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Brench Boden Q&A: Digitizing the supply chain

July 18, 2016
Manufacturing is experiencing a resurgence in the U.S. and we find ourselves ready for transformation of old paradigms.

Attendees at the Smart Industry 2016 conference embarked on a field trip—a tour of Chicago’s Digital Manufacturing And Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). To provide insight on this cutting-edge facility, we chatted with DMDII Chief Technology Officer Brench Boden.

Smart Industry: Describe the connection between DMDII, UI LABS and the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

Brench: UI LABS solves large-scale challenges by bringing universities and industry together with startups and government to accelerate the deployment of emerging technologies
through collaboration. The organization is developing a portfolio of applied research and commercialization labs that lead to a return-on-investment for its partners, improve local/regional/national competitiveness, and transform entire industries.

In February 2014, UI LABS announced the formation of its first lab, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), through collaboration with the Department of Defense and a host of other partners, to transform American manufacturing through digitization of the supply chain. DMDII is one of nine National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) Institutes, each with its own concentration area—lightweight metals, flexible hybrid electronics, and additive manufacturing being some examples. DMDII’s focus is on digital manufacturing.

While each institute strives to make progress within its respective concentration, the combined efforts will improve information flows among industry, academia and government, while leveraging regional resources to accelerate innovation in manufacturing across the United States and move technologies to commercialization more rapidly. The network allows for sharing of best practices among the institutes, such that when one institute breaks ground in a particular area, all of the NNMI can benefit.

Smart Industry: What most excites you about the DMDII?

Brench: The collaborative effort to advance digital manufacturing. DMDII’s members—large and small manufacturing entities, along with startups, universities, and civic partners—are coming together and figuring out ways to use technology to make manufacturing processes more efficient and competitive, and to ensure we have a job force equipped for modern manufacturing roles.

It’s amazing to see competitors working together on projects that will have implications not just for them, but for the wider manufacturing industry. We’re taking information and data that was formerly siloed within particular processes—the design stage, or production, for example—and sharing that information across the life cycle, creating products that are better-designed with fewer mistakes, and thus less costly to produce. It’s incredible to be a part of the collaborative effort to bring manufacturing into the 21st century.

Smart Industry: Why is this the right time for an initiative like DMDII?

Brench: Manufacturing is experiencing a resurgence in the U.S. and we find ourselves ready for transformation of old paradigms; however, this requires a catalyst and convener for change, a role that DMDII is playing.  

Manufacturing generates more data than any other industry, but it’s been slow to harness that information in a meaningful way. At a time when big forces are challenging American competitiveness—trends such as globalization, demands for sustainability and security, and increased customer desire for customizable products—U.S. industry urgently needs to collaborate to modernize and digitize its operations.

DMDII brings together a diverse group of members dedicated to finding solutions. By leaving their organizational bubbles, these groups are working side-by-side to identify shared challenges and devising innovative technological solutions with wide-reaching applicability for the industry as a whole.

Smart Industry: What is an example of the change/value that digital technologies have on the factory floor?

Brench: Digital technologies have immense implications for manufacturing processes, with the potential to transform decision processes; and to make production more efficient, more precise, and ultimately cheaper than existing methods.

One example from a recently awarded DMDII project focuses on the class of technologies referred to as augmented reality (AR). Using digital technologies, the project will create instructions for an AR-based training system, embedding visual instructions in an individual’s work environment through projection, wearable elements, or handheld devices. The potential for real-time demonstration and instruction will reduce training time and errors at multiple stages of the manufacturing process, and it will free up experts previously committed to teaching time-consuming training sessions. The longer term vision for such “point-of-use work instructions” could integrate metrology information and prior processing data to present precise instruction and feedback to the manufacturing operator with tremendous quality and cycle-time improvements. 

Smart Industry: How does the work of the DMDII connect with the Smart Industry conference audience?

Brench: Smart Industry’s focus on the digital transformation of manufacturing directly aligns with DMDII’s mission of advancing digital manufacturing through collaboration. DMDII’s role at the center of innovative exploration of challenges and solutions will be of interest to the Smart Industry audience, particularly the project outcomes and best practices that emerge from our digital-manufacturing projects.

Smart Industry: What elements of the Smart Industry conference most intrigue you?

Brench: I find the thought leadership available through the Smart Industry conference particularly intriguing. The conference agenda is full of cutting-edge sessions from industry leaders, with a diverse range of topics related to IoT and digital technology.

At DMDII, the exchange of ideas is particularly important to us, so I’m also drawn to the in-depth discussions during Smart Industry’s icebreaker roundtables and the opportunity for an intimate conversation among industry peers.