The former director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Carroll Thomas has joined the MxD board of directors.
In her role as director of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s NIST MEP, Thomas helped U.S. manufacturers compete globally by accessing new technology and strengthening supply chains. MEP services have more than 400 manufacturing extension offices located in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
With more than 30 years of entrepreneurial and small business development experience, Thomas’ public and private sector career demonstrates her leadership expertise. Thomas currently serves on the boards of the Information Technology Innovation Foundation and the State Department Federal Credit Union. She holds a bachelor of science degree from Drexel University in design and a master of business administration from Johns Hopkins University in international business. She is now retired.
“I am thrilled to welcome Carroll Thomas to our board to bring a more intimate familiarity with the challenges and strengths of the small and mid-sized manufacturers,” says Chandra Brown, MxD CEO. “Carroll’s leadership will bolster MxD’s efforts to digitize the hundreds of thousands of smaller firms that form the backbone of the nation’s manufacturing economy.”
The addition of Thomas to MxD’s board builds upon the institute’s track record of working with MEP to disseminate resources to manufacturers embarking on their digital journey and seeking to improve their cyber-posture.
MxD is the nation’s digital manufacturing institute, where innovative manufacturers go to forge their futures. In partnership with the Department of Defense, MxD equips U.S. factories with the digital tools, cybersecurity and workforce expertise needed to increase productivity and win more business.
What are three key things that a machine builder, system integrator or manufacturer should know about MxD?
Carroll Thomas, board member, MxD: MxD is an excellent resource for manufacturers providing guidance on Industry 4.0 implementation, as well as opportunities to collaborate with other manufacturers. As a member of MxD manufacturers have access to Industry 4.0 case examples to help inform their decisions and accelerate adaption of new technology into production processes. MxD also provides access for smaller manufacturers to advanced manufacturing equipment and information on developing a workforce able to adapt to new technology through MxD Learn.
What new technologies are driving product development in the U.S. manufacturing sector and why?
Carroll Thomas, board member, MxD: The whole convergence of the digital and physical worlds in advanced production processes, using technology such as 3D printing in addition to composite materials embedded with smart technology, is overwhelmingly driving product development. Ideas for product development are endless with the added capability of connecting one product with another using the Internet of Things (IoT) and applying artificial intelligence into production machines for even fairly simple products such as hearing aids.
How should the Industrial Internet of Things figure in the business strategy of U.S. manufacturers?
Carroll Thomas, board member, MxD: There are several areas in which the Industrial IoT (IIoT) could figure into a company’s business strategy, such as using it for just-in-time ordering of production supplies to keep low inventory on hand. Two other major areas IoT should be considered in business strategy are in helping to create a more diversified and adaptable list of suppliers to build in control of your supply chain and to keep customers, as well as increase revenue by creating digitally connected products and providing data to ensure proper product maintenance schedules.
How will machine automation and controls alter the way companies staff their operations in the future?
Carroll Thomas, board member, MxD: One of my favorite examples is Makuta Micro Molding in Indiana, which specializes in micro injection molding. They are nearly 100% automated utilizing sensors, operating 24/7, producing 40 million zero-defect micro parts every month. The plant is jaw-droppingly spotless, and the average age of the 15 or so people who work in the plant is around 30 years old. The owner has connections with the local high school to bring in tech-savvy students to apprentice. If they do well, he makes them permanent, gives them raises as they learn new equipment and pays for them to go to college. Way back when I was in high school, employers would bring in young people for their brawn. Now they bring them in for their brains.
How is the development of software solutions impacting requirements for hardware?
Carroll Thomas, board member, MxD: The pace of software solutions is pushing hardware designers to think very differently by designing agility in hardware, whereas in the past hardware was static. Working primarily with smaller manufacturers, I didn’t have much experience in this area to say much more about how this is impacting requirements for hardware, but I can see how this is an issue with hardware manufacturers.
As engineering and IT continue their convergence, which one is and/or will be leading the direction of future automation and technology at manufacturers across the country?
Carroll Thomas, board member, MxD: I don’t think it will be one or the other. Business owners will go with what allows them to bring in revenue in the short- and long-term. Smart manufacturers today are adding data as a service to go with the products they produce, using the service to build in new revenue streams. They are also using the product data to help improve the performance of their products and to enhance customer loyalty.
Looking into the future, how will technology change the U.S. manufacturing industry over the next five years?
Carroll Thomas, board member, MxD: Because of the pandemic, we will lose a chunk of manufacturers that were not able to successfully hold on or pivot. A lot of the manufacturers we lose will be those that hadn’t employed digital systems and/or practiced cyber-hygiene. Over the next five years, we will see an explosion of new or reconfigured manufacturers, with small and medium-sized manufacturers—nearly 99% of all manufacturers—going from around 50% to over 75% employing fully digitalized production systems. This will have a dramatic increase on productivity, enabling manufacturing to accelerate the economic potential for exploring the next edge of engaging the unique properties of the quantum world.