Tucked into the details of a wide-ranging plan announced recently by President Obama to foster job creation and jumpstart the manufacturing sector is an initiative by Procter & Gamble to deliver free advanced simulation software to small and midsized companies.
Late last month at Carnegie Mellon University, the President launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP). It's a national effort to bring together industry, universities, and the federal government to invest in emerging technologies that will help enhance US global competitiveness while paving the way for a host of high-quality manufacturing jobs.
President Obama's plan, based on the recommendation of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) in a report entitled, "Ensuring Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing," calls for the investment of more than $500 million in a variety of programs. In addition to Carnegie Mellon, MIT, the Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan are among the top engineering schools initially involved in AMP, along with major industry players like Caterpillar, Corning, Honeywell, Intel, Dow Chemical, Northrop Grumman, and others.
One of the more interesting pieces of the collaboration is a promise by Procter & Gamble to offer advanced modeling and simulation software free of charge to small and midsized manufacturers. The software, a computational fluid dynamics program originated at Los Alamos National Labs, has been tapped by P&G to model and optimize its manufacturing processes for diapers along with other products, saving the CPG giant $500 million over the years. The advanced simulation offering builds on P&G's participation in an earlier effort to offer a modified version of the Open Foam open-source CFD package as part of a pilot program called the National Digital Engineering Manufacturing Consortium (NDEMC), which is making high-performance computing resources and digital simulation software available to smaller and midsized manufacturers in the Midwest.
P&G's participation in NDEMC, and the latest move announced as part of the AMP, reflect the manufacturer's interest in making the same kind of HPC and digital simulation resources it employs regularly in product development available to its supply chain. By giving its suppliers the tools to optimize their products for manufacturability, P&G ultimately can better serve its own customers with better products, says Tom Lange, P&G's director of corporate research and development, modeling and simulation, in an interview. "If our suppliers get better at what they do, then we both share a win," he says. "Every dime or dollar spent on bad manufacturing, every raw material that's wasted, is money that the consumer ultimately might see."
While the details are still being hammered out, Lange says the plan for both efforts is to allow SMB manufacturers to access HPC and simulation resources on-demand as opposed to having to purchase costly software licenses to accommodate a handful of users during peak times. "NDEMC will provide a lower risk engagement for the software vendor and the SMB manufacturer," Lange explains, while letting the simulation software vendors experiment with a business model around an on-demand offering.
A jumpstart for domestic manufacturing
In addition to the digital simulation piece, the federal government is taking a number of steps to launch AMP. In partnership with industry, the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce, and other government agencies will coordinate existing funds and future budgets, setting a goal of $300 million to invest in technologies aimed at jumpstarting domestic manufacturing. Initial investments are earmarked for areas like small high-powered batteries, advanced composites, metal fabrication, bio-manufacturing, and alternative energy, to name a few.
The Materials Genome Initiative will be the vehicle for $100 million of investment in developing and manufacturing advanced materials to address challenges in manufacturing, clean energy, and national security. There is also a combined effort by the National Science Foundation and other government agencies to pour $70 million to support research in the area of advanced robotics, and a commitment from the Dept. of Energy to channel somewhere in the ball park of $120 million to develop processes and materials to facilitate reductions in energy and manufacturing costs.
In his speech announcing the initiative, President Obama said that, while American innovation has always been sparked by individual scientists and entrepreneurs often based at top universities, companies don't always invest properly in the new ideas because they don't equate to immediate financial returns. Government investment, on the other hand, can be the catalyst for getting that innovation off the ground, he said, citing as an example, the National Science Foundation's funding of Stanford's Digital Library Project in the 1990s, which ended up giving birth to Google.
Harry Moser, the founder and president of the Reshoring Initiative, a non-profit aimed at championing the cause of bringing manufacturing back to the US, said, while he was pleased by the President's direction, he is skeptical of the government's plan to bring technology to small companies, because smaller firms already tend to be more productive than larger ones.
"The small companies have to be productive to compete in the US and against foreign competitors on price and quality, while the big companies are protected by their branded products and can charge a huge premium for their manufacturing, allowing inefficiency," he explained in an interview. "Our country might do better by encouraging the big companies to become more competitive."