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Getting to a State-wide Manufacturing Network – The Process

“We all live under the same sky, but we don’t all have the same horizon” – Konrad Adenauer

In a previous blog (Rising from the Ashes – The California Network for Manufacturing Innovation), I reviewed the creation of CNMI and its path forward. In this one, I want to highlight the process for getting it going.

As noted in the earlier post, CNMI is an outgrowth of the National Governors’ Association policy academy on “Making” Our Future. The initial players – the California Manufacturing Technology Consultants (CMTC), the Corporation for Manufacturing Excellence (Manex), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), the University of Southern California (USC) and Collaborative Economics (representing the State) – had some initial conversations and individual meetings to try to determine how to respond to the policy academy’s recommendations. Those recommendations included the desire to do something in workforce, innovation (tech transfer pilot) and export that would matter. In parallel with the initial conversations about the policy academy, CMTC had been talking to RTI International about a NIST MEP sponsored initiative, known as Technology Scouting/Technology-Driven Market Intelligence (TS/TDMI), which had been the subject of a presentation at one of the policy academy’s sessions.

TS/TDMI is ultimately about innovation. Tech Scouting is used when a company needs a technology and doesn’t quite know where to look to find it. TDMI is used when a company has a technology and doesn’t quite know the possible uses for it. Both use a similar process to determine a company’s readiness to engage in a TS/TDMI project and to conduct the necessary, disciplined research needed for a successful outcome.  The confluence of the policy academy’s results and the TS/TDMI conversation would turn out to be quite fortuitous.

An initial face-to-face meeting in July 2012 was held the day before CMTC had scheduled TS/TDMI training for its entire staff. That meeting was facilitated by NIST MEP so that everyone else in the room could be an active participant and included RTI. The end result of that first meeting was the rather nebulous notion of the need for an event centered on advanced manufacturing that would engage existing manufacturers in CA. The decision was taken to focus on additive manufacturing since that was one of the technical strengths of LLNL and USC. There was also a recognition that there were some players missing from the scene. In short order, the team grew to include Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), El Camino Community College (representing all the Centers for Applied Competitive Technologies) and i-GATE (one of the State’s Innovation Hubs, sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development or GoBiz).

The ensuing questions then were when to have the event, where to have it and who to invite? The when and where were relatively easy, but the who was more complicated as no one really understood the additive manufacturing landscape in CA. The suggestion was made that a TDMI-like project might help sort this out and, in light of the fact that CMTC had just had its entire staff trained (along with a couple folks from Manex), that it might also be a good opportunity for some of the trainees to practice their newly acquired skills.

Step one was to define additive manufacturing. The definition agreed to was “a layer-by-layer technique of producing 3D objects directly from a digital model,” which came from a report by IDA’s Science and Technology Policy Institute (Additive Manufacturing: Status and Opportunities, March 2012). Step two was to define the goals. The four goals of the TDMI project were:

  1. Identify CA market players that are early adopters or potential  licensees/adopters of LLNL and/or USC additive manufacturing technologies
  2. Identify key stakeholders for a potential consortium for advanced manufacturing in California, and to participate in the additive manufacturing event
  3. Identify and prioritize key issues for the event and/or a broader consortium
  4. Characterize the technology needs of users and potential adopters, by sector (e.g., automotive, medical device, aerospace)

Step three was to execute the project and try to do so quickly. The project’s findings included:

  • Most AM activity in the U.S. is east of the Mississippi
  • Not all organizations in AM value chain are connected
  • Most companies contacted were interested in participating in a learning lab
  • A subset of companies, those actively engaged in additive manufacturing, are interested in participating in a collaborative and solving industry problems
  • A good outcome for the collaborative would be a series of initiatives, each focused on various aspects of the major needs:

Innovation: need to focus and avoid duplication with other efforts; many needs in materials and process development          

Workforce: no talent pool, companies have to train their own workers in AM          

Supply chain: few U.S.-based materials companies and AM equipment manufacturers

For California in particular, the TDMI team found that CA has companies in all parts of the AM value chain, including 40 organizations that are actively engaged in AM (and more are out there) and that CA organizations are participating in national AM efforts including the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) steering committee, ASTM F42 standards committee, the National AM Innovation Institute (NAMII), the NSF Center for AM (RapidTech) and the NSF 2009 Roadmap for AM. They also identified multiple issues that a collaborative could address and a set of topics of interest for the proposed (or alternative) events.

Based on the findings, the team decided that a more formal structure was needed and so in mid-December 2012, the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation (CNMI) was born.  The findings also paved the way for the very successful Learning Laboratory event last month. CNMI is now figuring out its next steps (organizational structure, research activities and events) and promises to be a significant influence on California’s advanced manufacturing economy.

“Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprise.” – Demosthenes

About the author

Dave Cranmer

Dave Cranmer is the former Deputy Director of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). With MEP since 1993, he has overseen extension centers, conducted research on innovation, new product and service development and deployment, supply chains, technology roadmapping, eBusiness and exporting, built a business-to-business marketing consulting practice for smaller manufacturers, established specialty consulting practices in financial access, eBusiness, technology scouting and technology-driven market intelligence (TDMI). He has also worked on the formation of technology collaboratives using TDMI and a set of business-to-business network pilot projects for the MEP System. He was previoulsy the government representative on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Devices Good Manufacturing Practice Advisory Committee.

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