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Teresa Beach-Shelow knows exactly what she wants from the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, the UI LABS collaboration that will launch its first-ever chapter in Rockford.
Beach-Shelow is the president and owner of Machesney Park-based Superior Joining Technologies, a provider of precision laser welding that meets the high tolerances required by the aerospace industry and the U.S. military.
Given her customers, and the ways in which they use what her company produces, she must keep detailed records.
“Aerospace has documentation. I have to document the parts I put on airplanes,” Beach-Shelow says. “I have to keep track all the way from the mill where they were made through the assembly process. Every person who touches them. Their certification. The serial numbers.”
Once Superior sends the parts on to suppliers, Beach-Shelow is required to store those documents for 30 years. That’s seven years longer than she’s owned the company that she started in her garage with her partner, Thom Shelow.
“So,” she says, “my question to DMDII is, ‘How, when you create the material at the mill, can you come up with a digital code and push that information all the way up to the Tier 1 so that I don’t have to keep maintaining these years and years of documentation?’ That’s the thing that I’d like to see solved, and I’m excited about it.”
She’s not the only one.
When leaders of the Chicago-based institute visited NIU-Rockford earlier this week to announce the site of their pilot chapter – one that is expected to serve as the model for subsequent chapters that will spread from coast to coast – the audience included some prominent cheerleaders.
And why not? DMDII aims to digitize the supply chain of U.S. manufacturing, develop the workforce of the future and restore American’s industrial position as “the envy of the world.”
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Congresswoman Cheri Bustos heralded the decision to start in Rockford as “the next coming of the Industrial Revolution,” a “dynamic opportunity” to begin “the next generation of thinking.”
NIU President Doug Baker envisioned the “potential for enhancing the growth, prosperity and global competitiveness of our region’s manufacturing sector.”
Dean L. Bartles, chief manufacturing officer for UI LABS and executive director of DMDII, believes “the Rockford region is poised to become a model community in the renaissance of American manufacturing.”
“Rockford has a pioneering history in the field of manufacturing technology, contributing to countless innovations within the sector,” Bartles told the elected officials and business leaders who gathered for his announcement, “and again Rockford will be a pioneer as the DMDII pilot chapter, setting the stage for future expansion across the United States.”
Efforts to revitalize the industry requires “the combined talent, resources and participation from the nations’ manufacturing leaders,” a DMDII brochure states. “Participating in DMDII is an investment in the economic future of the United States.”
Among the resources available to the highest-level members are research funding, applied research-and-development, Digital Manufacturing Commons software and access to “shop-floor” demonstrations
In return, DMDII members will boost their return on investment by making production processes more efficient and agile, by harnessing data to gather more insightful analytics and by enhancing relationships between manufacturers and their customers and suppliers.
Membership levels are available for companies of all sizes.
“DMDII is a collection of members – from some of the largest corporations in the world to single-person shops and everything in between,” Bartles says. “We all have one thing in common. We’re innovating together so that we can all do our jobs better, faster and more cost-competitively.”
Promod Vohra, dean of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, knows how that is accomplished.
His college’s faculty have spent the last two decades advising Rockford-area manufacturers on how to modernize, grow and sustain their business. Manufacturing is “the first source of job creation,” he says, and automating processes is critical to its survival.
Seating DMDII at the table amplifies that assistance, Vohra says.
“We will be able to learn from the innovation of other companies and scientists and bring it to the attention of small- and medium-sized enterprises,” he says. “We will create a supply chain of knowledge-sharing, and sharing of best practices, so that good work done by a few companies benefits other companies. It’s a community of stakeholders trying to help each other.”
Vohra believes the DMDII chapter will offer “a go-to place” for answers on engineering innovation, modernization, reengineering and optimization and workforce development – and complement the services his faculty already are providing.
The college’s operations in Rockford “go hand-in-hand with this announcement,” he says, and will continue to empower the region’s manufacturers.
“Rockford has undertaken a journey in the past 15 years to give attention to the manufacturing industry, and NIU has been an intrinsic part of that journey, and we continue to do different things to help them reach that goal,” he says.
“Our college intends to play a stronger role. The College of Business will be needed. The College of Law will be needed. Other scientists will be needed,” he adds. “We’ve always felt Rockford is a priority region for us, and DMDII will strengthen our partnership.”
Beach-Shelow is confident that the Rockford area is worth the investment of DMDII and NIU – and she’s eager to see the work pay dividends.
“Every job in our region is connected somehow to the manufacturing industry,” Beach-Shelow says.
“The aerospace cluster that we’re a part of is a leader in the United States. EIGERlab has been able to create a new cluster of software people. I think that marriage of information and innovation with entrepreneurship makes us the right fit,” she says.
Hosting the DMDII chapter “puts us right at the center of innovation,” she adds. “It’s going to help us take weight out of airplanes. It’s going to take costs down. We’re going to make things faster. We’re going to keep things from breaking. We’re going to stop downtime from happening. It really is going to be the next Industrial Revolution.”
Mark McGowan, NIU Media & Public Relations