ASME Forum Ignites 21st-Century Engineering

By Nancy Bartels

Sep 15, 2014

Cooperation and coordination are the only practical ways to cope with accelerating technological change, which is why hundreds of engineers young and old converged on Buffalo, New York, on Aug. 17-20 for the first Advanced Designs and Manufacturing Impact Forum organized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (www.asme.org). The event at the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center included visionary keynotes, panel discussions, dozens of presentations in 12 conference tracks and numerous exhibitors, which highlighted 3D printing equipment, robotics, computer-aided engineering (CAE) and other formerly futuristic innovations barging back into the present.

"We're focusing on how to harness big data on any device and in any class of applications, and turn it into predictive analytics in manufacturing and business intelligence," said Russ Agrusa, founder, president and CEO of HMI/SCADA software developer Iconics, during the forum's opening panel discussion. "Automobile plants used to have a lot of people, but now they have a lot of robots. As a result, there's a lot more bring your own devices (BYODs), interpersonal collaboration and millennial work styles to manage increasing numbers of cyber-physical systems. Big data usually means volume, velocity and variety of information, and some examples of it include operating entire airport facilities, adjusting pitch angles on windmill blades at a windfarm, or managing all 107 buildings on Microsoft's 88-acre campus. It's estimated that big data is growing 80% per year and will soon be involved in $45 billion worth of manufacturing."

Other panelists and experts at the forum reported that use of big data and advanced manufacturing are both part of the recent recovery and revitalization of U.S. manufacturing, but they require an equally big push to encourage and educate students to become engineers, technicians and operators. "We need to promote engineering in mainstream, K-12 curriculums, and redouble industrial internships and summer camps," said Sridhar Kota, Herrick Professor of Engineering at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

"We make some of the lowest-tech products, but high-tech modeling and simulation is transforming our consumer goods industry and helping us resolve complex engineering contradictions. These including using molecular-level, worm-like micelles to help make products strong, but soft, or stretch without breaking, or dispense easily, but stay where applied," says Thomas Lange, modeling and simulation director in Proctor & Gamble's global R&D and usability organization. "So we're using CAE to develop better detergent pods or test stresses on bottles."

Despite these many technical and educational challenges, Helmuth Ludwig, CEO, Siemens Industry Sector for the U.S., reported there are many reasons for optimism about engineering because the U.S. is already on the path to recovery, 600,000 new jobs were created since 2010, and advanced manufacturing tools are putting the nation on the verge of a new era of productivity. "The U.S. can lead the coming transformation in manufacturing because of the power of its new ideas, innovations and software," Ludwig said. "About 79% of all software companies already are located in the U.S., and that's a deep cultural strength that can fuel manufacturing too.

"Many discrete industries are moving to cover their entire product and production lifecycles with real-time loops, including designing, planning, production and service. A friend of mine in a production plant says, ‘You've no idea how often we have to move walls,' so it's a big help when they can do virtual start-up projects to evaluate an optimization plan, boost productivity in an existing facility, or use a digital model of an application for quick testing and increased availability during changeovers. We just used many of these tools in a $430-million investment in Greenpac's new 250,000-sq-ft containerboard mill in Niagara Falls, New York.

"In fact, the only thing missing from all these technical innovations is having enough well-educated people to run them, so we're partnering with many schools nationwide, such as Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, N.C., which are training the next generation of engineers and technicians. So far this year, Siemens already has given $3 billion worth of software to high schools across the U.S., but we still have to let more young people know that factories aren't dirty and dangerous, and that they're cleaner than laboratories and are fascinating places to work. Closing this training gap is all of our responsibility."