Advanced Manufacturing

Today, I’m calling for all of us to come together – private sector industry, universities, and the government – to spark a renaissance in American manufacturing and help our manufacturers develop the cutting-edge tools they need to compete with anyone in the world. With these key investments, we can ensure that the United States remains a nation that ‘invents it here and manufactures it here’ and creates high-quality, good paying jobs for American workers.

President Barack Obama at Carnegie Mellon University, June 24th, 2011

The Role of Education in Advanced Manufacturing

Leading universities, companies, and your local school’s FabLab must all come together in order for the United States to develop a thriving cutting-edge manufacturing sector and accompanying workforce. Idea Builder Labs is the ideal partner to assist local schools in taking advantage of the federal, state, and local programs that support STEM education.

From elementary schools to universities, the education sector plays a crucial role in furthering the development of advanced manufacturing. FabLabs on school campuses, in communities and workplaces, are an important link in the advanced manufacturing chain: they plant the seeds of innovation and spark an interest in STE(A)M learning in students of all ages. Moreover, they help students hone the skills they’ll need to land well-paid jobs in the advanced manufacturing sector.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, and University of Michigan have all committed to forming a multi-university collaborative framework for sharing educational materials and best practices related to advanced manufacturing.

What is Advanced Manufacturing?

Most simply put, advanced manufacturing is the use of computers and robotics to make things. Incorporated into this type of manufacturing process is the utilization of a wide variety of sensors that provide real-time data and feedback, which improve the efficiency and quality of the manufacturing process. A key benefit of this type of manufacturing is that current and relative technological advancements can be integrated into the manufacturing process to positively benefit operational management.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy defines Advanced Manufacturing as “a family of activities that (a) depend on the use and coordination of information, automation, computation, software, sensing, and networking, and/or (b) make use of cutting-edge materials and emerging capabilities enabled by the physical and biological sciences, for example nanotechnology, chemistry, and biology. This involves both new ways to manufacture existing products, and especially the manufacture of new products emerging from new advanced technologies.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) is being developed based on the recommendation of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). It calls for a partnership between government, industry, and academia to identify the most pressing challenges and transformative opportunities to improve the technologies, processes and products across multiple manufacturing industries. FabLabs are helping to carry out the goals of AMP.

CNC Machines

CNC stands for Computer (or computerized) Numerical Control and is a process used in manufacturing and product development where computers are utilized to control the movement of machine tools. The majority of “high-tech” machines that are found in a FabLab are controlled using this process. These machines include: 3D printers, laser cutters, milling machines, lathes, mills, routers, just to name a few.

More specifically, CNC machines are directed by computers either onboard or connected externally, which provide the key commands for fabrication. The majority of modern CNC systems use computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software programs. Technicians and designers produce a computer file that is used to direct the necessary commands to operate a particular machine.

The fabrication possibilities for CNC machines are virtually limitless as they can do the some of the following: laser cutting, welding, plasma cutting, wire and tubing bending, fabric cutting, sewing, routing, picking and placing (PnP), milling and sawing. Nearly every commercial product you purchase is produced using these technologies.

There are numerous advantages to using CNC machines. Firstly, the process is more precise than manual machining, and can be duplicated in exactly the same manner repeatedly. The machines can also produce complex shapes that would almost be impossible with manual machining.