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Mike Richman

Quality Insider

CMS and UNC Charlotte Receive NIST Grant

Finding solutions to complex problems

Published: Tuesday, June 23, 2015 - 15:14

3D printing. The Internet of Things. Big data. Outsourcing. Reshoring. A graying workforce. The skills gap. The wage gap. For manufacturers, these factors and countless others are creating a revolution, albeit a quiet one, whose effects are still not fully understood. They will, however, be felt for decades to come.

What's certain is that factories and job shops everywhere face complex problems and exciting opportunities that could only have been dreamed of just a generation ago. In response, government, academia, and industry are joining forces to address these concerns and ensure that U.S. manufacturers are given the tools, skills, and knowledge necessary to remain at the forefront of the world economy.

Forging a partnership

Today, Tues., June 23, 2015, the Coordinate Metrology Society (CMS) and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNC Charlotte) announced that they have been awarded an Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). AMTech funding is intended to accelerate the growth of advanced manufacturing in the United States, and the CMS and UNC Charlotte team will therefore form a consortium focusing on large-scale precision manufacturing and innovation. Targeted sectors include aerospace, defense, energy, and others that manufacture large-scale, high-accuracy parts and products—exactly the areas of industry that the CMS was established to serve in 1984.

NIST's AMTech program was launched in 2013 to examine and eliminate technical barriers to advanced manufacturing in the United States. In recent years, both the CMS and UNC Charlotte have taken independent steps to address these very same issues. Since 2010, the CMS has run an interactive measurement study at its annual conference, seeking to understand the best practices of metrology professionals. The organization has also developed a Level-One and Level-Two certification to assess and verify the skills of metrologists working in the field.

UNC Charlotte, meanwhile, recently opened its new Siemens Energy Large Manufacturing Solutions Laboratory, located in its Energy Production and Infrastructure Center (EPIC). The facility supports the research and development of next-generation manufacturing technologies.

Finding solutions to complex problems—together

Given the respective (and closely aligned) missions of the CMS and UNC Charlotte, it's no surprise that the two joined forces in applying for the AMTech grant.

"The Center for Precision Metrology at UNC Charlotte is world renown for their work in the metrology industry," says Ron Hicks CMS AMTech committee chairperson. "Their participation brings instant credibility to our combined efforts on the AMTech project."

The feeling is mutual from UNC Charlotte. "The Coordinate Metrology Society is a natural partner in the field of large-scale metrology," says Ed Morse, a professor in the department of mechanical engineering and engineering science at UNC Charlotte, and deputy director of UNC Charlotte's Center for Precision Metrology. "Using the society's large membership base, we can gather input from the full array of stakeholders in large-scale manufacturing and metrology processes and use our expertise in technology selection and management to guide the development of the initial roadmap for advancement in this area."

The area that Morse is talking about—large-scale, close-tolerance measurement achieved through the use of portable 3D equipment—requires the special focus and attention of industry experts due to the nature of the work and the challenges that metrologists encounter. "The problems faced in the production and inspection of large components are unique," Morse says, and the funds allocated by the AMTech grant will permit "the creation of an initial technology roadmap for large-scale manufacturing and metrology [and] will provide guidance for new research directions."

A student and Dr. John Ziegert, right, a professor of mechanical engineering and engineering science, and the director of the Siemens Large Manufacturing Lab at UNC Charlotte.

From his vantage point within the CMS, Hicks sees the great benefits of bringing together various stakeholders to work on these problems. "This will be the first consortium of its kind that represents academia, original equipment manufacturers, and individual leaders within the metrology industry," he says. "Together, we will spot emerging needs and direct the focus of industry toward solving the problems of today as well as tomorrow."

The importance of innovation

Everyone, in all manufacturing sectors and disciplines, needs to constantly innovate and find ways to improve. In the super-high-tech world of portable coordinate metrology, this imperative is of critical importance. The leaders of the consortium formed by CMS and UNC Charlotte are well aware of the need to innovate, for their benefit as well as the health of the broader industry.

"Many advances in large-scale manufacturing and metrology are based on specific solutions to a pressing problem that are then applied to other products or processes," says Morse. "The benefit of the road-mapping process is that it reveals underlying problems the might span very different industries. Focusing on these fundamental problems will result in a platform for needed industrial innovation."

It is for this reason that the CMS-UNC Charlotte consortium, powered by the AMTech grant provided by NIST, is so important to U.S. industry. New ideas are the lifeblood of progress, and the best path to discovery is to get smart people together in properly furnished facilities and let them do what they do best—discover, learn, improve, and innovate. Manufacturing in the United States today is complex, challenging, and ever-changing. It's also filled with bright, dedicated professionals who are hungry to advance knowledge and increase opportunities and efficiencies for stakeholders up and down the supply chain. With funding supplied by NIST, facilities and academic leaders provided by UNC Charlotte, and hands-on expertise from the CMS, precision metrology within manufacturing can look forward to a bright future.


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Mike Richman