Partners Celebrate Launch of Tech Initiative

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Local lore has it that millions of dollars of technology upgrades sat in warehouses and were never implemented before the mass shutdowns of area steel mills in the mid-1970s.

That’s not a mistake that Mahoning Valley manufacturers can afford to make again, Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator, said.

YBI is one of the partners in a new $10 million initiative to introduce advanced manufacturing technologies to small and medium-sized businesses.

Representatives of the partnership, which includes Youngstown State University, the University of Northern Iowa, the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Logistics Agency, the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, which manages America makes, met Friday at the YSU Excellence Training Center.

The objective is to increase the number of small- to midsize-businesses using advanced technologies, bolster critical areas of the defense manufacturing supply chain and create jobs by removing barriers to adopting Industry 4.0 technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and 3-D printing.

“What we will be doing is transitioning a legacy industry or a legacy manufacturing process, sand casting, and injecting technology which will allow the removal of essentially tribal knowledge through the use of that technology,” said Brian Schmidt, program manager for the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation and Integration Center, which NCDMM also operates.

The idea is to further refine the sand-casting process and, through automation, remove personnel from the dangers or hazards associated with sand casting and the secondary processing of cast parts, he continued.

The initiative’s goals “align perfectly” with the mission of the Excellence Training Center because it has research, education and workforce training elements to it, said ackie Ruller, director of advanced manufacturing research and commercial projects and site manager for the program. As part of the project, a foundry and post-processing lab will be constructed at the ETC, where 3-D metal printing research also will be conducted.

“We’ll go out and we’ll do outreach to small to medium entities and teach them what we’ve learned and how to implement these same technologies into their facilities,” she said.

“Emerging technologies a lot of times are not easily adopted by industry,” said Mark Lamoncha, CEO of Humtown Products, said. What is coming together here will help to accelerate advanced manufacturing in the foundry industry as well as what he calls “the industrial Amazon,” where people can “more or less click and ship” an industrial part the way they do a commercial part.

“Our local manufacturers need to understand how technology can make them more competitive,” Ewing said. “And we as an economic development community need to be working with them, to help them to make it easier, to reduce the risk, to make them aware of the opportunities and how they can benefit from it, and then lay the groundwork to get to implementation at whatever level they can. This project will help us do that in a key area of industry for us.”

According to Ruller, the project was made possible through competitive funding secured by a bipartisan congressional coalition across Iowa and Ohio, including U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan.

“We are on the verge of the next great age of manufacturing in America, but that only happens by making robust investments in our workforce to bring our supply chain back home,” Ryan, D-13 Ohio, said in a statement distributed at the event.

Ruller said the hope is to have the foundry set up by August. The first performance period for the project runs 18 months, and there will be the opportunity for two more funding rounds after that, she said.

Pictured at top: Jackie Ruller, director of advanced manufacturing research and commercial projects and site manager for the program, addresses the audience while Brian Schmidt, program manager for the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation and Integration Center, looks on.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.