Manufacturing Advances


New tools, heat-recovery systems and smart control systems are just some the industrial and manufacturing advancements percolating in research laboratories across the nation. But they top the list of projects culled by the U.S. Dept. of Energy through its Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, designed to increase U.S. competitiveness in production of clean energy products and manufacturing competitiveness through better energy productivity.

Five groups of research teams from universities and private industry recently divided $25.5 million in DOE grants to pursue their projects that could benefit automotive and other manufacturing processes and the burgeoning shale oil industry through lower production costs of essential materials and reduced energy needs. The project with the most potential to affect industry-wide operations is from a team led by the University of Texas at Austin that will develop a tool to integrate performance metrics, models and simulations with real-time plant energy data. It should help manufacturers optimize energy productivity in real-time and, in turn, reduce waste and improve energy efficiency by up to 30%, claims the team.

SMART Manufacturing

UT is part of a group that includes the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, a nonprofit organization comprised of industry, government and university members. It plans to develop the nation’s first open smart manufacturing technology platform for collaborative industrial network applications.

“Together, we intend to transform industrial productivity and energize a new era of innovation by empowering manufacturers with real-time, plant-wide workflow intelligence needed to deliver higher levels of game-changing competitiveness,” states Dean Bartles, SMLC chairman and senior vice president of General Dynamics. “Smart manufacturing infrastructures and approaches will also let operators make real-time use of ‘big data’ flows from fully instrumented plants to improve safety, environmental impact and energy, water and materials use.”

The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition is developing a unique smart manufacturing technology platform

The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition is developing a unique smart manufacturing technology platform. Image:

The overall objectives of the initial project are to design and demonstrate a common platform that enables data modeling and simulation technologies to actively manage energy use in conjunction with plant production systems. It will show how real-time management of energy use as a key driver in business decisions can be applied across a wide range of manufacturing companies of varying sizes.

According to Tom Edgar, UT professor of chemical engineering and director of its Energy Institute, “By combining high-fidelity modeling and novel sensors, we can perform real-time control and optimization of process equipment to achieve significant reductions in energy consumption.”

"Ideally, progressive business leaders will soon view their plants and factories as innovation hubs and profit centers to be invested in rather than just cost centers to be cut with such little strategic value that they sometimes have been outsourced overseas,” says Denise Swink, CEO of SMLC, Inc. “We expect the Smart Manufacturing Platform will unleash American ingenuity and engineering prowess in ways that are as unexpected as how the IT revolution has changed every other aspect of our lives.”

Stamping and Forming

Other projects chosen by DOE include Ford Motor Co.’s effort to develop a new tool to simultaneously create features on both sides of sheet metal. The company claims it would eliminate the need for customized tooling like castings and dies, and would reduce scrap and energy production by 70%, possibly lowering production costs by 90%.

At the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO, Metallurgical and Materials Engineering Professor Emmanuel De Moor is working with a group of industry partners to develop a room-temperature stamping technique to replace hot stamping for the manufacture of advanced high-strength, lightweight steel. It could dramatically reduce costs and energy needed to manufacture aircraft, vehicles, and other large equipment.

Presently, hot stamping at temperatures of up to 900 degrees Centigrade is needed to produce high-strength steel. The Mines project will alter the material’s microstructures to exhibit high strength and formability at room temperature. Besides reducing energy costs for manufacturing, the final product will reduce vehicle weight along with fuel consumption, say project leaders.

“The holy grail is to not only increase strength but improve ductility” at lower temperatures says De Moor. The process was first proposed in 2003 by John Speer, professor of metallurgical and materials engineering at the School of Mines. This project will move the process to the industrial floor. “The goal is to get it to the front door of the industry,” says De Moor. “There’s a lot of exciting things happening in the steel industry.”

Energy Recovery

In Ithaca, NY, Novamer will lead a project to convert waste carbon dioxide from industrial sources and ethane derivatives garnered from shale gas to chemical “intermediates” that are used in applications such as paints, coatings, textiles and plastic polymers. It is expected to reduce cradle-to-grave energy usage by 20% to 40%.

TIAX LLC, Lexington, MA, is developing a new technology to convert waste heat from manufacturing and industrial processes to electric power, partnering with Green Mountain Coffee to help reduce energy needed by coffee roasters. According to DOE, medium-grade waste heat can be converted to electric power using a novel, scalable scroll expander having an isentropic expansion efficiency of 75% to 80% for a broad range of organic Rankine cycle boiler pressures, condensing temperatures, and speeds. Estimates suggest the system would generate net income in three years and provide national energy savings of 0.90 TBtu/year just for natural gas from coffee roasting applications alone.

These projects come one year after DOE awarded the 13 advanced manufacturing grants, which now join the Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative. The program is founded on partnerships with “thought leaders, manufacturers, innovators, government agencies, universities, state and municipal offices and others who have been active in growing manufacturing competitiveness,” says David Danielson, DOE assistant secretary for energy efficiency and renewable energy.

By combining high fidelity modeling and novel sensors, we can perform real-time control and optimization of process equipment to achieve

Prof. Tom Edgar, University of Texas


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April 2013

by John Kosowatz, Senior Editor,