The term “Industrial Revolution” often recalls images of 19th century factories, steam engines, and the shift from an agricultural economy to the manufacturing focus that shaped the last 150 years, especially here in the northeast.
Today, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already underway, and it has the potential to fundamentally change the way we work, live, and most importantly, manufacture.
In just the last 20 years, we have witnessed the result of connecting billions of people with mobile devices. The emerging technologies associated with what has come to be known as Industry 4.0, or Advanced Manufacturing will have an equally broad impact on the world, and on countless businesses right here in Vermont.
A few of the more popular Advanced Manufacturing methods include:
- Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing): “Building” metal and plastic products by depositing a series of thin material layers. This contrasts with traditional, “subtractive” processes, in which parts are manufactured by removing material from blocks or cylinders;
- Robotics and Collaborative Robotics: Robots can take the place of humans for boring, repetitive, or dangerous work. Collaborative Robots (“Cobots”) work collaboratively with people, perhaps lifting and positioning parts to make the operator’s job faster and safer; and
- Augmented Reality: This technology, which enables a user to view the “real” world with an overlay of “augmented” data or information, is already in use on the factory floor for training, maintenance, and tracking manufacturing efficiency.
Collaboration is Where It’s At
In response to these vast challenges and opportunities, VMEC hired Chris Coulter as its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Advisor in summer 2021. Chris assists Vermont companies in leveraging Advanced Manufacturing to increase growth and improve their competitive advantage.
Chris brings a background of collaboration with engineers and businesses on a range of products, and he has a great deal of experience enhancing manufacturing processes through Lean practices and implementing creative equipment solutions to improve throughput and capacity.
“Advanced Manufacturing really is a broad term,” Chris says. “It represents a wide range of technologies and digital infrastructure, and my focus is on helping Vermont companies connect with and integrate these technologies.”
The most exciting aspect of VMEC’s commitment to Advanced Manufacturing, though, is the creation of the Vermont Manufacturing Collaborative, or VT-MC. This partnership between industry, higher education, and various technical and support resources realizes a key strategic goal of establishing and maintaining a working “collaborative” and a vibrant “Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence,” hosted by Vermont Technical College in Randolph Center.
“The collaboration came about when a Vermont company had a need for metal 3D printing. Because the equipment cost is high and the technology is complex, the idea of developing a facility for all Vermonters was born,” states Chris. “By forming the Vermont Manufacturing Collaborative, we created a center that would give Vermont companies access to equipment, as well as the training needed to benefit from it. Because Vermont Technical College has a great history for technical education, it was decided to locate the center on the VTC Campus in Randolph Center.”
Partnership and Mission
The Advanced Manufacturing Center’s mission is to to help companies accelerate their business by adopting advanced manufacturing processes and to develop the workforce to support it. Here, Vermont manufacturers can demo and experiment with equipment, create prototypes and learn in a hands-on way while collaborating with regional partners to provide best solutions.
The Center includes design digitalization, advanced machining, metal and polymer additive equipment, as well as metrology and metallurgy systems. It represents a strong partnership between VMEC, manufacturers, VTC, the State of Vermont Department of Economic Development, and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy to address workforce development in Vermont.
In announcing the nearly $8 million federal investment to establish the Center, Senator Leahy said, “the facility will ensure that more Vermonters have the training and skills to match the latest generation of manufacturing jobs…this collaborative, public-private partnership will open new career opportunities to Vermonters…ensuring that Vermont manufacturers around the state will have the ability to partner and benefit from this important skill training.”
Yet another way that VMEC and the MEP National Network are working to ensure that small-medium-sized manufacturers benefit from Advanced Manufacturing is the MEP Advanced Technology Team, a one-stop resource to help clients apply technology to process and product challenges.
This program will help manufacturers find the right technical resources to overcome the inevitable hurdles that appear in product development, manufacturing process or deployment of new technical operation solutions. And best of all, because the program is fully funded, there are no costs to the client!
VMEC Can Help
If you are interested in learning more about Advanced Manufacturing and the ways it can help you develop new products and enhance production and processes, VMEC has the resources to help!
Contact us today.