REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. (May 25, 2016) -- Since its inception in 2014, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute has established itself as a public-private partnership focused on the maturation of technologies with the mission to improve the competitiveness of American manufacturing and design.

The idea for DMDII was conceived, promoted and developed as a topic proposal in response to the Obama administration's request to establish advanced Manufacturing Innovation Institutes using existing funds and authorities. The request came to the Joint Defense Manufacturing Technology Panel through the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy.

U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center engineer and JDMTP's Advanced Manufacturing Enterprise subpanel chairman Greg Harris proposed digital manufacturing and design as a means for government to invest in developing capabilities for the U.S. industrial base.

Harris and AME subpanel co-representative, Paul Huang, formerly from the Army Research Laboratory, suggested an institute to facilitate connections among large corporations, small enterprises, government entities and university researchers working together to solve problems within the manufacturing industry.

The pair, along with their colleagues on the AME Subpanel, defended the proposal through the administration selection process until digital manufacturing was chosen as a topic for the second batch of institutes to be established by the Department of Defense. The initiative was funded with a $70 million federal investment, which was more than matched by non-federal partners. Harris was designated as the program manager in 2014.

"Big picture-wise, DMDII is part of a larger White House initiative to spur domestic manufacturing growth, to reinforce and confidently secure our nation's competitiveness on the global stage," AMRDEC Director James Lackey said.

"We saw DMDII as a way to leapfrog the technological evolutions that the Army missed," Harris said. "We could learn from and use this institute to gain knowledge, information, and capabilities that would allow us to catch up with our suppliers."

Digital Manufacturing and Design encompasses model based enterprise, intelligent machines and advanced analysis capabilities. The foundational capability to share files and data is established in the product lifecycle management systems.

The digital thread is the development and use of digital data and information throughout the entire lifecycle of a system or part. This digital thread allows reuse or repurposing of models and data, which increases efficiency and reduces costs from conception of the design, through the engineering design and manufacture, to service and disposal of manufactured products.

"Army is essentially functioning in a two-dimensional world, while our original equipment manufacturers are operating in a three-dimensional world," Harris said. "This makes using data sent from our suppliers difficult, because we don't have the correct tools or programs. Nothing is connected or compatible. We are constantly faced with interoperability issues."

The institute advances the capability of the industrial base by conducting projects in the digital technology areas of concern as established by industry, academic and government partners. Tools such as computer aided design can be used for advanced rendering and animation capabilities so engineers can visualize their product designs better.

CAD removes the traditional "drawing board" and sketches on paper by allowing engineers the ability to use a digital 3D models to view, alter and adjust data within an intuitive computer program. The software is used to increase the productivity of the designer and engineer, improve the quality of design, improve communications through documentation, and to create information for manufacturing.

Automated tools and workflows are being developed that feed the information from the model directly to the manufacturing process rather than a technician having to manually program the manufacturing equipment for each feature of a part.

Computer aided engineering, computer aided manufacturing, product lifecycle management, enterprise resource management, manufacturing execution systems, intelligent machine sensors and other tools networked together without interoperability issues will create a digital thread for a system from concept to end of life.

"These digital tools will help us capture the data from beginning to end," Harris said. "Should we need to go back and create the part again, the data already exists. We can then focus on how we start reusing that data to refine manufacturing practices, to design new manufacturing products, and to make better products."

It is technological advances like these that will lead to DMDII's success, he said. DMDII's unique approach is to propose problem statements to teams and allow them free reign to find creative solutions.

The projects bring together teams with expertise in a variety of manufacturing disciplines and encourage collaboration amongst government, industry, and academia. Efforts are led by an industry member that coordinates work among other members on the team.

"The whole idea is to create a digital manufacturing ecosystem that allows us to grow and have a robust environment where digital manufacturing and design is the norm in the U.S.," Harris said.

The public-private partnership began as a consortium of 73 companies, universities, nonprofits and government partners and is operated by UI LABS in Chicago. Membership has grown to more than 200 members with major names including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Rolls-Royce Corporation, Caterpillar, General Electric, Proctor and Gamble, Microsoft and John Deere.

"I am very proud of the program leadership by Dr. Harris to get this critical institute up and running," Lackey said. "I look at DMDII as the leading edge of our next industrial revolution, a way to more fully digitize production, the supply chain and integrate smart machines with advanced analytics in order to drive up efficiency and drive down cost."

In February 2016, DMDII issued $15 million to six national contract research awards, including funding to test and aid compliance with the nation's cybersecurity standards for digital manufacturing. DMDII's first round of projects are expected to be complete this fall.

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The U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.