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NDEMC Update: Program to Bring HPC, Advanced Manufacturing Technology to Midwestern Companies Now Underway

What a difference a year makes. 

In October 2011, we reported that the Council on Competitiveness was about to receive a $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for the creation of a public-private partnership known as the National Digital Engineering and Manufacturing Consortium (NDEMC).

Well, as promised, the grant arrived, joining $2.5 million in matching funds from General Electric, John Deere, Lockheed Martin, Procter & Gamble, Purdue University, and the Ohio Board of Regents.

NDEMC is the initial project of President Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.  Its role is to broker and promote collaborative relationships that will sustain the growth of American manufacturing through economic opportunity – including job creation and enhanced competitiveness.

NDEMC’s goal is to help small to medium-sized American manufacturing enterprises (SMEs) take advantage of advanced digital manufacturing technologies such as modeling and simulation, which, in many cases, have been beyond their reach until now.  The Consortium is working to overcome obstacles to adoption that SMEs typically face – a lack of funds, a shortage of in-house talent, and an IT infrastructure that is unable to handle the high performance computing (HPC) requirements that advanced software such as finite element analysis (FEA) and computational fluid dynamics (CFD) demands.

To get an update on the Consortium’s progress, we recently talked with Dr. Cynthia McIntyre, a senior vice president at the Council on Competitiveness overseeing its HPC initiatives, who was participating in last week’s SC12 conference in Salt Lake City. 

She says the NDEMC team currently includes: the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS); the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA) in Illinois; the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC); and Purdue University, with its membership in the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). 

The initiative allows the SMEs to tap into the advanced HPC hardware and software at these organizations, as well as their considerable intellectual capital. The NDEMC team has also identified SMEs for whom modeling, simulation and analysis (MS&A) are critical components for solving their manufacturing problems.

“To date, we have 20 projects that are on-going, involving companies that span alternative energy, medical devices, cooling systems, plastics and many other technologies,” McIntyre says. “Through NDEMC’s public private-partnership we are providing the education, expertise, and advanced hardware and software needed to enhance their competitive capabilities.”

Projects are now in progress involving the following Midwest SMEs:

  • Adams Thermal Systems
  • AltaSim Technologies
  • Applied Science Inc.
  • Boss Industries
  • Dekker Vacuum Technologies
  • Engendren Inc.
  • Greenlight Optics
  • Jeco Plastic Products
  • KLW
  • MED Institute Inc.
  • Midwest Precision
  • Modern Tool Inc.
  • Morrison Industries
  • Plastipak Packaging, Inc.
  • Pratt Industries
  • Quality Manufacturing Corp.
  • Replex Plastic Inc.
  • Rosenboom, Inc.
  • Technology Management Inc.
  • TPI Composites

Jeco Plastics

So far the poster child for the NDEMC initiative is Jeco Plastic Products.

Jeco, with a plant in the Indianapolis area, is a small custom-mold manufacturer of large, complex, high-tolerance products. Two processes are used in the manufacturing facility – rotational molding and twin-sheet pressure forming

Materials used range from commodity thermoplastic resins, such as polyethylene (PE), to extraordinarily difficult resins, such as polyetherketoneketone (PEKK) with continuous unidirectional carbon fibers. Jeco’s customer base includes large U.S. and international original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the automotive, aerospace, printing and defense industries.

NDEMC got Jeco engineers together with experts from OSC and Purdue to address a potential customer’s last minute design changes to a Jeco pallet product.  Without access to experts and the HPC modeling, simulation and analysis resources made available by the NDEMC partners, Jeco would have lost the opportunity for a multi-million dollar export order from a German OEM.

NDEMC facilitated the SME’s access to ABAQUS modeling and simulation software that was used to analyze the pallet design changes.  The Consortium also trained the company’s engineers in the use of the software.  Under ordinary circumstances, Jeco would not even have had access to the software due to budget constraints.

But for Jeco, the benefits NDEMC brings extend far beyond the individual contract, important as it was. Improvements to the company’s pallet product have had a major impact on its bottom line – sales revenue is expected to double, payroll will increase by 35 percent at its plant, and Jeco will be in contention for additional high-margin, domestic and export business projects. 

Specifically the company is realizing a new opportunity for a multi-year contract with annual orders of $2.5 million during the next five to ten years, as well as the addition of fifteen new jobs and capital investments of more than $500,000.  With NDEMC’s help and a dose of digital manufacturing, Jeco is positioned for significant economic growth.

Planning a Portal

In the works for the Consortium is the development of a web-based portal designed to support SME productivity.  NDEMC has issued and received responses to a request for information (RFI) to the HPC community and plans to have a demo prototype underway in the not too distant future. 

Some of the portal’s characteristics have already been enumerated by NDEMC.  They include:

  • A single point of entry to access MS&A software and HPC
  • A searchable database of MS&A software (at present there are 143 types of software in the database)
  • A secure business transaction capability (pay-by-use model)
  • Access to unbiased advice and direction (university partners)
  • A database of MS&A consultants and their areas of expertise

McIntyre says that the Consortium is continuing to develop education, training and public awareness materials to indicate to the SMEs just what HPC and MS&A can potentially deliver to jumpstart their operations.

“As the team likes to say, although the SMEs are small, the problems they are addressing are very complicated, very sophisticated – these are not just problems associated with large companies,” she says. “NDEMC’s role is to help them address these problems in an affordable and timely fashion.”

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