Report Out: Gamechanging Ideas for Cost-Effective Low-Volume Manufacturing

Event Recap

MForesight hosted a workshop on Gamechanging Ideas for Cost-Effective Low-Volume Manufacturing at the ASME-MSEC Conference at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. Low-volume manufacturing of innovative and specialized products at economical pricing is needed in nearly every industry, yet mature manufacturing technologies capable of economically producing such products are limited. This interactive workshop on June 5, 2017 brought together over 75 manufacturing experts to share ideas and build partnerships to broaden technical capabilities and access to low-volume manufacturing.

Participants explored opportunities and challenges in need of further R&D to enable cost-effective manufacturing of products in volumes too high to “print” or “machine” one at a time, yet too low to justify tooling investment. A sample of the big ideas suggested for further investment include:

  • Soft tooling and fixturing, such as using magnetic fields to align parts, to reduce or eliminate costly and time consuming tooling and fixturing production.
  • Novel manufacturing processes that directly produce smooth surfaces and multi-material parts. These advancements are key in removing costly polishing and assembly operations.
  • Additive manufacturing that integrates thermal processing, surface treatments, and a variety of other processes in situ, so that parts can be manufactured with the right properties, not just the right geometry.

The full collection of recommendations from the workshop will be further explored in an upcoming whitepaper that will be available on MForesight’s website.

Keynote speaker Rich Baker, Chief Technology Officer of Proto Labs, launched the discussion by exemplifying the motivation, challenges, and opportunities for low-volume manufacturing. Jose Ulloa, Senior Manager of Process Development and Tooling Design at Boston Scientific, also presented his perspectives on the needs and challenges of low-volume manufacturing. The following invited researchers further fueled the discussion with an introduction to the current state of the art of the field:

  • Jian Cao from Northwestern University spoke about using double-sided incremental forming for low-volume sheet metal forming which allows for higher formability and better fatigue life.
  • Glenn Daehn from The Ohio State University presented on robotic blacksmithing (metamorphic manufacturing) which allows for complex forgings without hard tools.
  • Hitomi Yamaguchi Greenslet from University of Florida described the innovation of using a magnetic squishy bag for rapid fixturing and polishing of arbitrary shapes.
  • David E. Hardt from MIT spoke about the benefits and constraints of rapid tooling which can be accomplished through reconfigurable surfaces, fast machining, and more.
  • Tony Schmitz from University of North Carolina presented about M-Uber, a concept where machine operators are intelligently dynamically assigned to workstations, which can reduce both the number of operators needed and machine downtime.
  • Daniel F. Walczyk from RPI provided an overview of using additive manufacturing for creating continuous fiber thermoplastic composite parts.

The resulting recommendations from the manufacturing community will be shared with decision makers to inform national R&D priorities towards advancing the competitiveness of American manufacturing.