Larry Howard waited patiently at his booth for questions from the 200 people who attended a daylong workshop hosted by the Digital Lab for Manufacturing.
The event in Chicago was packed with information about a Department of Defense-funded project that aims to help manufacturers make virtual prototypes so precise that they would eliminate the need for physical ones. That project is being folded into the Digital Lab for Manufacturing, which is offering $9 million in funding to take that technology to market.
William King, chief technology officer of the Digital Lab for Manufacturing, said that to receive funding, applicants would have to explain how the technology will be implemented in the real world. And winners would be required to invest a dollar for every dollar granted, he said.
Howard, an engineer at Vanderbilt University's Institute for Software Integrated Systems, created a website that houses programs that marry design with manufacturing, generating data about the design and its feasibility along the way.
For example, one program tells the designer the metals that are available to make a part, the cost of those metals and how they affect the design.
Another program tells the manufacturer whether it has the machines and raw materials to make the design in-house. Eventually, the program could also spit out the code that workers can feed to machines that make parts. Today, workers manually type that code into the machine.
The website is a prototype, Howard said, adding that he attended the workshop in hopes of finding a partner to bring it to market.
For it to work in the real world, suppliers and manufacturers would need to share information about their products. He highlighted that the website and programs it houses have the potential to remove the veil of secrecy from manufacturing costs, create competition, improve designs and accelerate the manufacturing process.
Penn State University created one of the programs on Howard's website that strives to identify problems early in the process.
Daniel Finke, an engineer at Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory, said sometimes engineers design part A and don't take into account part B.
He said that, sometimes, part B heats up and affects part A. The analysis across all those different programs would fix that problem, he said.
Joseph Salvo, General Electric's director of the Industrial Internet Consortium, said the manufacturing world has been slow to implement technology, but projects such as the Defense Department effort help lower the prices and make technology more attractive.
"It's going to take a collaborative effort to make (the projects) a reality," Salvo said.
The Digital Lab for Manufacturing, which will be based on Goose Island, aims to team manufacturing experts, software companies and universities to spread cutting-edge technology through supply chains, to design and test new products, and to reduce costs in manufacturing processes across many industries.
The deadline for proposals is 4 p.m. Aug. 15.
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