Inside Extreme Scale Tech|Sunday, December 28, 2014
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The Next Revolution 

The revolution – televised or not – will take place in early October. Even as awareness of digital manufacturing reaches a tipping point in the public consciousness, one of the most ambitious and promising efforts to bring it out of the realm of possibility and into that of practical adoption is about to host its coming out party.

Digital Manufacturing Revolution is a two-day celebration of the most important and visible milestone yet for the Grid Initiative, a bold multi-year agenda by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) to promote digital manufacturing adoption in American industry. The event will take place over October 1st and 2nd at GE’s Advanced Manufacturing & Software Technology Center (AMSTC) in Van Buren, Michigan.

“Revolution is half launch party, half industry event,” says Jon Riley, Vice President of Digital Manufacturing at NCMS and the architect of the company’s national Grid Initiative. “First and foremost, we celebrate: this is the launch of our inaugural Grid Cell™ innovation center, hosted at AMSTC. That’s step one in a national network of brick and mortar anchors to promote learning and adoption of digital manufacturing. As of October first, the Michigan Cell, which is focused on advanced materials and composites innovation, is open for business.

“It’s also a good chance to take a look at the progress we’ve made on the Grid effort. The NCMS Digital Manufacturing Strategic Interest Group is meeting at the event, and we’re using the two days to tell a story about what we’re trying to do. For newcomers to the whole effort, it’ll be an opportunity to get some background. For those who have been with us from the start, Revolution is a chance to celebrate the accomplishments and take a step back to look again at the whole picture.”

At its simplest, the Grid Initiative can be seen as a mechanism to smooth the way for digital manufacturing, particularly among smaller enterprises that have not yet adopted the tools. It accomplishes this objective in two ways: the national network of Grid Cells provide physical workspaces for learning, hands-on experience, and collaborative R&D projects. “Grid Cells are like relays,” says Riley, “they’re planted in strategic places around the country and they project the message outward. And that message is, hey, digital manufacturing is something anyone can take advantage of. Come see, no pressure, no hard sell. They spread the word.”

Connecting the physical Cells is the Grid Portal, an online virtual community and solution marketplace. Since a key objective is to provide a neutral, single-stop access point for digital manufacturing tools, NCMS is working hard to build partnerships with software vendors. “We need to think like the user,” says Riley. “Small manufacturers, they want things the waythey want things – they want a trusted single location where they can access everything. They don’t want to go to a bunch of vendor websites. They want it to be as easy as possible. It can be hard to get used to, especially for providers, but it’s the best and only way to reach this blue ocean market.”

A closed alpha of the Grid Portal will launch concurrently with the first Cell at Digital Manufacturing Revolution, supporting hand-picked manufacturers participating in proof-of-concept pilot programs. The Portal’s development is iterative and ongoing, with feedback from each successive launch rolled into new feature releases based on priorities set by users themselves.

NCMS is making the most of its two days, organizing the event so it’s simple for multiple audiences to attend on relevant days or times rather than blocking off the entire period. The October 1 agenda focuses on the Grid Initiative, strategy, accomplishments. Highlights will include discussions and workshops dealing with initiative issues and next steps at the strategic level. Additionally, the NCMS Digital Manufacturing Strategic Interest Group will meet on the first. October 2 is devoted to the small and medium manufacturer, enterprises that stand to benefit most from the national Grid effort. Focus tracks throughout the day will focus on workforce development, case studies of small enterprise adoption, pilot programs, and opportunities for training and hands-on experience at the Cell.

Unlike other efforts to get digital manufacturing off the ground in the United States, the Grid Initiative is all-encompassing, something Digital Manufacturing Revolution hopes to highlight: training, workforce development, continuing education, access to (and pricing of) tools, centers for R&D, a virtual environment for collaboration – the Grid’s scope and ambition are matched by its potential to do great things for U.S. manufacturing. It is, after all, trying to revolutionize the way America builds.

NCMS President and CEO Rick Jarman has plenty to say on the revolutionary aspects of the initiative and its ties to the past. “People always ask, why ‘Grid?’ Most people associate that with power grids. First, that terminology has a long history in computing. Control grids, command grids, containment grids, even ‘grid processing,’ these are concepts that go back to the dawn of the supercomputer. But a grid is also a special kind of network. It connects, it provides, it empowers. We speak of being ‘on’ the grid to indicate that we’re inside something larger, something that’s greater even than the sum of its parts. We wanted a term that spoke to the entire scope of this initiative. The Grid isn’t a brand name, it’s a way of defining tomorrow’s manufacturing.”

Digital Manufacturing Revolution kicks off on October 1st and runs through the 2nd, with events throughout both days. click here to learn more.

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