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National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

March 31, 2012

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:23

Earlier this month, the White House announced new efforts to support manufacturing innovation. Central to the announcement is a proposed investment of $1 billion for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. It would involve up to 15 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation across the U.S., each one serving as a regional hub of manufacturing excellence. A pilot institute will be launched using $45 million of existing resources from the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce, and the National Science Foundation.

The plan is expected to bring together industry, universities, community colleges, federal agencies, and states to accelerate innovation. It hopes to 1) bridge the gap between basic research and product development, 2) provide shared assets to help small manufacturers access cutting-edge capabilities and equipment, and 3) create an unparalleled environment to educate and train students and the workforce in advanced manufacturing skills. The press release states that this model has been successfully deployed in other countries and represents a gap in U.S. manufacturing innovation.

The White House presented three broad areas of opportunities, one of which is 3D printing (aka, additive manufacturing). In my opinion, this is big, and it is likely the first time any Administration in Washington has acknowledged the existence of the technology. The announcement underscores the importance of refining standards, materials, and equipment for 3D printing to enable low-cost, small batch production using digital designs that can be transmitted from designers located anywhere.

The other two areas of opportunity cited in the announcement: 1) the development of lightweight materials, such as low-cost carbon fiber composites that improve fuel efficiency, performance, and corrosion resistance for next generation automobiles, aircraft, ships and trains, and 2) creating a smart manufacturing infrastructure and approaches that make real-time use of “big data” flows from fully-instrumented plants in order to improve productivity, optimize supply chains, and improve the use of energy, water, and materials. Interestingly, additive manufacturing technology can also play a significant role in these two areas.

Regardless of one’s political affiliation, I believe this announcement is very important. It brings much-needed attention to product development and manufacturing and proposes a way to invigorate an industry that could use a boost. Converting raw materials of relatively low value into products of relatively high value is a way of creating wealth for organizations, individuals, and entire nations. I applaud the White House for this initiative.

Steve Jobs

March 16, 2012

Filed under: review — Terry Wohlers @ 08:49

I finished Steve Jobs, authored by Walter Isaacson, last week. Wow! He was one interesting guy. Brilliant, driven, meticulous, obsessive, emotional, and ruthless are a few of the words to describe him. His astoundingly successful products and businesses are like no other. And, I doubt we’ll ever see anyone like him again in our (or my) lifetime. As Isaacson put it, he leaves a legacy that is on par with the likes of Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. I hope future generations are made aware of the extraordinary impact Jobs had on computing, desktop publishing, animated movies, music, smart phones, and tablet computing.

The book takes you back to before the birth of Jobs, why he was adopted, and his years growing up. Jobs fully cooperated with Isaacson as he compiled astonishing detail and anecdotes for the book. And, Jobs never asked to see a draft of what he had written. Isaacson was brutally candid, revealing the great achievements of Jobs, as well as his many quirks, odd habits, and sometimes shocking personality. It ends with his most recent efforts at Apple a short time before he died in October 2011.

The book is one of the most intriguing I’ve read in a long time. What I found most interesting was how Jobs was so exceedingly engaged with almost every factor associated with the development of a new product. Even in his last years, he would get involved at the detailed level, such as a subtle curve on the external housing of the iPhone or iPad. He would agonize over the smallest of details, such as the shape of a simple button on a screen. Undeniably, he was as “hands-on” as any CEO can get and he influenced nearly everything associated with the company and its products and services.

I regret not meeting Jobs when I had a chance back in the late 1980s while attending a National Computer Graphics Association (NCGA) exposition. He was then CEO of Pixar, a company that produced Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and many other animated hits. Pixar had a large exhibit at the NCGA show and Jobs was present. I was visiting an adjacent exhibit, but didn’t make my way over to meet him, and I regret it to this day.

If you want to better understand Steve Jobs and what he did to make Apple arguably the most successful high tech company in the world, read this book. It had my attention the entire way through and I learned a lot from it. Steve Jobs is a book that I will probably read again someday. It’s that good.

Three Years in China

March 4, 2012

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 18:09

In November 2011, I received an email from an individual in China. Nearly every week, I receive many emails from Chinese prototyping, tooling, and injection molding companies trying to sell their services. They go into my spam control filter so that I never receive email from them again. This one, however, was different. It was from a well known engineering university in Beijing, one that many refer to as China’s “MIT.” I have a number of friends and acquaintances at this university, so I read it and this is what it said:

“How are you getting along? I have read each issue of your reports carefully and feel that they are wonderful and outstanding. Would you like to cooperate with me? Nowadays, Chinese government has released a new policy to attract foreign experts with very high salary (1 million RMB a year, ten times higher than ordinary professors in China). The only limitations are that the proposer must be below 65 years old and he/she must work at least 9 months a year in China (from 2012.1 to 2014). Would you like to have a try? You are welcome to China and I am looking forward to hearing from you.”

It got my attention, not because I was interested in the offer, but because of what the Chinese government is now doing to accelerate its standing in science and technology. Having been told years ago how much a Chinese university professor receives annually, I knew that it was not a lot, by U.S. standards. Ten times this amount, though, might interest some people. One million Chinese yuan (RMB) is about $159,000, which could attract bright, energetic, and reasonably well-connected and experienced professionals. It could certainly be an interesting and educational three years for them.

I thanked the person inviting me and politely declined. I bumped into her at EuroMold five weeks later and it became entirely clear that the invitation was indeed sincere. One can only guess how many similar invitations, maybe hundreds or thousands, that have gone to others. It’s an alarming strategy that China has put in place.