Source: | Tom Ballard | January 20, 2020

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first article in a multi-part series focused on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility {MDF} at Oak Ridge National Laboratory {ORNL}, truly one of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region’s greatest technology and innovation assets. The first three articles examine the MDF from the perspective of ORNL; the other three spotlight ways that local companies are capitalizing on the facility.)

When you combine a really big vision with amazingly strong relationships, a commitment to excellence, and an unwavering insistence on timely execution for the customer, there’s no telling what you can accomplish.

From my perspective, initially, as an insider leading a directorate at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and now as an interested outside observer chronicling technology and entrepreneurship, that description very accurately describes the evolution of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) that opened in early 2012 in the Hardin Valley area of West Knoxville.

Today, the MDF has already outgrown its initial 50,000 square feet and relocated earlier this year to a building next door that provides a total of 110,000 square feet. One can only speculate on how long the larger space will accommodate the rapidly growing programs that involve strong partnerships between ORNL scientists and industries critical to the nation’s future.

The MDF, part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Manufacturing Program at ORNL, is clearly an asset with which many local residents might not be familiar. That’s certainly not the case nationally for manufacturers who are seeking ways to remain competitive in the global marketplace in everything from controlling costs to adopting new and better technologies and processes.

Companies that publicly allow their names to be used in relation to their work at the MDF include Add Up, Boeing, Cincinnati Inc, GE, GKN Aerospace, Lincoln Electric, ExOne, Emrgy, Polynt Composites, Techmer PM, Strangpresse, Zeiss and Magnum Venus Products just to name a few.

We sat down recently with Bill Peter, MDF Director, to review the history of the MDF, albeit a mere seven-plus years after its opening, and the plans for the expanded space as well as the future.

“Craig was the grandfather,” Peter said of the vision, something that no one in the know would dispute. “Craig had been dreaming of this for a long time, at least since the late 1990s or early 2000s.”

He was referring to Craig Blue, ORNL’s Director of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Programs. Anyone who has ever met Blue will walk away from a discussion remembering his passion for manufacturing, his breadth of knowledge about all things related to manufacturing, and his willingness to tackle some of the biggest technological challenges that others might decline.

The MDF is one of three unique facilities that fall under DOE’s Advanced Manufacturing Program banner. The others are the: (1) Carbon Fiber Technology Facility, a 42,000 sq. ft. building providing a platform for identifying high-potential, low-cost raw materials including textile, lignin, polymer and hydrocarbon-based precursors; and (2) the Battery Manufacturing Facility, the country’s largest open-access battery and research development center focused on high-performance, low-cost water-borne processing technology, high-speed curing for advanced electrodes, low-cobalt and cobalt-free cathodes, and high-performance computing for advanced processing, performance validation, and life prediction.

The focus of this multi-part series is on the MDF, the capabilities housed there, and the various ways that manufacturers are drawing on the expertise to improve their competitiveness. To illustrate the importance of the MDF and the emphasis that the DOE has placed on its work, one only needs to consider a key fact.

“One-third of the energy used in this country is on manufacturing,” Peter says, noting that ORNL has always had programs looking at ways to reduce energy usage. “We also look at strategic materials that may take more energy to fabricate the material but decrease the energy in application such as transportation. An example is in light-weighting transportation where carbon fiber reinforced composites may take more embedded energy in manufacturing than materials such as steel but will reduce the energy used over the life cycle of the vehicle.”

Prior to 2012, Peter says, “We did not have a mechanism or place to facilitate more robust interactions with industries.” That all changed thanks to a strong working relationship Blue had developed with an administrator at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA. When Leo Christdoulou was selected to lead the renamed DOE Advanced Manufacturing Office, the vision that Blue had suddenly got legs.

Today, ORNL’s MDF is DOE’s only designated user facility focused on performing early-stage research and development to improve the energy and material efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness of American manufacturers. The research conducted there focuses on manufacturing analytics and simulation, composites and polymer systems, metal powder systems, metrology and characterization, machine tooling, large-scale metal systems, and robotics and automation.

Peter says the initial vision when the inaugural MDF opened was a focus on six pillars: lightweight materials, additive manufacturing, composites, roll-to-roll processing, low-temperature synthesis, and transient field processes.

Just three years after its opening, the MDF and work done there drew national headlines when then-President Barrack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden visited the region to see an electric vehicle printed at ORNL and announce the new manufacturing hub named IACMI or the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation. Without the MDF, it is highly unlikely that the announcement would have been made and the region would be headquarters for this major initiative.


PART 2: MDF started with six focus areas, now emphasizing additive manufacturing and composites

Jan 21, 2020 08:01 pm | By Tom Ballard

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second article in a multi-part series focused on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility {MDF} at Oak Ridge National Laboratory {ORNL}, truly one of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region’s greatest technology and innovation assets The first three articles examine the MDF from the perspective of ORNL; the other three spotlight ways that local companies are capitalizing on the facility.)

“We set it up in a way to focus on all six areas,” says Bill Peter, Director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Those areas, as outlined in Part 1 in this series, were lightweight materials, additive manufacturing, composites, roll-to-roll processing, low temperature synthesis, and transient field processes.

“Within two years, we decided to reduce our focus to two areas – additive manufacturing and composites,” he explained. After all, the MDF was a start-up, and new ventures are best served when they limit their focus in the early years.

“In addition to bringing in research dollars, we also launched a technology collaborations program,” Peter said. That initiative, named the “MDF Technical Collaborations Program” (TCP), was described in this March 2013 article as “a ‘seedling program’ to develop a proof of concept” . . . “a short-term collaborative technology assessment intended to accelerate commercial implementation of advanced manufacturing and materials technologies.”

Peter elaborated, saying it was “a fast track, non-negotiable CRADA,” referencing the Cooperative Research and Development Agreement that takes time to negotiate because of items like intellectual property ownership. “The (TCP) terms were very favorable for industry. The contract could usually get reviewed within 30 days.”

That tool made a statement to manufacturers that ORNL really wanted to build collaborative partnerships.

When the MDF opened, Peter says the Advanced Manufacturing Program was hosting about 1,000 visitors annually. Today, it averages about 5,000 people per year from 700 to 1,000 different companies. Visits are important, but what comes out of them is a higher priority.

“We start about 30 new projects annually with industry,” Peter says. “The MDF has one-half of all of the collaborative research projects undertaken at ORNL.”

Problem solving and new opportunities are clearly the emphasis at the MDF, enhanced by an interdisciplinary approach that involves researchers from multiple ORNL disciplines working alongside researchers from the companies.

“That has created a ‘can do’ attitude,” Peter explains. “Our success is based on the company’s success.”

In addition to what you might think would be the normal benefits to ORNL and its scientists, there’s one that might surprise you until readers give it more thought.

“You hear the heartbeat of America,” Peter says, citing what he calls the “raw information” that is shared during those collaborations. “You’re almost like a shrink for industry,” and those insights further inform the ORNL research agenda for the future.

We asked for an example.

“Take tooling and our dependence on technology from overseas,” Peter said. Those who are in manufacturing clearly understand the magnitude of this challenge. So, the MDF is helping companies understand how they can utilize rapid prototyping and advanced manufacturing of tooling that can be used in a large range of applications including composites, stamping and injection molding allowing companies to innovate much faster.

As a result of the significant growth in the number of companies visiting the lab and the annual volume of projects, Peter says the big equipment manufacturers want to place their equipment in the MDF at no cost as part of the R&D. That allows them to draw on the experience and knowledge of ORNL scientists while also allowing companies to test these new machines before making what most likely are significant financial investments.

“We fill-in knowledge gaps,” Peter says.

Now, with the MDF housed in a larger building, ORNL has more space for more collaborations with industry. The space is largely allocated to one of six focus areas – composites and polymer systems, large scale metal systems, machine tooling, manufacturing analytics and simulation, metal powder systems, and metrology and characterization – in addition to offices and conference rooms.

NEXT: Some new people and some exciting new areas of focus.


PART 3: Recruitment of top scientific talent a key factor in the success of the MDF

Jan 22, 2020 08:00 pm | By Tom Ballard

(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the third in a multi-part series focused on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility {MDF} at Oak Ridge National Laboratory {ORNL}, truly one of the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region’s greatest technology and innovation assets The first three articles examine the MDF from the perspective of ORNL; the other three spotlight ways that local companies are capitalizing on the facility.)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) places a premium on recruiting top scientific talent, and several recent appointments involving the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) underscore that emphasis. One is Tom Kurfess, the other is Scott Smith.

Kurfess, ORNL’s Chief Manufacturing Officer and Distinguished Scientist for Manufacturing, arrived this past January with impressive credentials, among them serving as Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing in the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Prior to that, he had served as the BMW Chair of Manufacturing at Clemson University’s International Center for Automotive Research and came to ORNL from Georgia Institute of Technology where Kurfess served as Professor and HUSCO/Ramirez Distinguished Chair in Fluid Power and Motion Control.

In this recent spotlight article written by ORNL’s Jennifer Burke, Kurfess underscores the rapidly changing nature of the work underway at the MDF. He predicts that the equipment on the floor in the facility today will be either modified, upgraded or replaced in less than five years.

That point underscored one made by MDF Director Bill Peter who described the facility as a “living thing.”

In the article written by Burke, Kurfess said, “I don’t want the same systems here year after year. I want the latest technology. We’re going to work with industry, so they know exactly how to utilize that technology. Once we help them develop a system, it’s out the door. Our job is to help industry transmit technology; to build up.”

Kurfess also cited a key takeaway from his year at the White House that will no doubt shape his tenure at ORNL. “One thing we haven’t done well on a national scale is leverage our national labs,” he said. “No institute can do what a national lab can do.”

Kurfess adds that two of his top priorities are in digital manufacturing and data analytics. “It really comes down to standardizing and how do we communicate with the machines, how do you build smart sensors that communicate in both a secure and efficient manner,” he said.

With the Internet of Things and the evolution into 5G data networks, digital manufacturing is clearly something on the not too distant horizon.

“As we’re developing a toolset for digital discipline, what would take two to three years now takes two to three months Peter says. Imagine the impact on productivity and competitiveness for manufacturers.

Smith, a Tennessee native and Tennessee Tech University graduate, left a 23-year career at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, to become ORNL’s Leader for Machining and Machine Tool Research.

Like Kurfess, he sat down with Burke for a spotlight article where much of his emphasis was on subtractive or machining, not additive technologies. “With the MDF, ORNL has a huge presence in additive equipment,” he told her. “This is the place to be, and I want to be the subtractive guy in additive land.”

Smith outlined “three big themes” required to integrate subtractive capabilities into the world of additive.

“First we focus on how to improve existing machine tools,” he explained. “Then, we begin to design the ideal machine tool, explore what the machines should look like based on the parts we want to make. Finally, we start to build up a workforce that can support our innovation.”

Kurfess and Smith are just two of several recent strategic hires that have moved the MDF headcount from 12 when the facility opened in 2012 to 82 today. They join innovators like Lonnie Love, Group Leader for Manufacturing Systems Research Vlastimil Kunc, Group Leader for Manufacturing Science Research and Ryan DeHoff, Group Leader Deposition Science and Technology.

NEXT:  The first of three articles examining how MDF has made a difference for local companies.

Visit the website site to read the other three remaining parts of this series.