IRI Intros: 5 Questions with Ben Wang

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You probably have heard that Georgia Tech has Interdisciplinary Research Institutes (IRIs) — but do you know much about them? 

This article is the first in a series of Q&As to introduce the Tech community to the eight IRIs and their directors. First up, Executive Director Ben Wang answers five questions about the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute (GTMI)

Q: Why is manufacturing a national priority?

A: Manufacturing is the foundational building block of our nation's economic and national security, creating wealth and raising America’s standard of living. It accounts for 70 percent of America’s exports and 90 percent of Georgia’s exports. Manufacturing employs more than two-thirds of all U.S. scientists and engineers; 90 percent of all U.S. patents come from manufacturing; and manufacturing comprises more than 50 percent of the nation’s R&D. For every manufacturing job created, more new jobs are created in the supply chain — and even more in the broader economy — which is vital to our nation’s growth and competitiveness.

The U.S. has more inventions and better ideas than any other country and has been the first mover in many new technologies. Building on this track record, transformational manufacturing technologies will drive American manufacturing back to its preeminent position in the global economy. With research being key to manufacturing, there is great urgency to accelerate large- and nano-scale leading-edge research, including research related to biomedical and clean energy solutions, from the lab to the real world.

Q: How is Tech, under the leadership of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute (GTMI), uniquely positioned to address the challenge for the U.S. — and its manufacturers — in manufacturing?

A: GTMI is a university-wide community of thought leaders who are passionate about manufacturing innovations that: lead to the creation of new knowledge and high-value jobs in Georgia and the U.S., enhance our national security and global competitiveness, and address the importance of economic and environmental sustainability.

Recent discussions and debates across the U.S. point to the need for innovation-driven manufacturing, and academic research is a major source of innovation. GTMI supports Georgia Tech’s thought leadership in this national discussion on manufacturing through transformative endeavors such as the White House Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) Steering Committee — on which Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson serves.

Under the auspices of the AMP Steering Committee, which is tasked with reinvigorating U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, five work stream task forces were named: technology, workforce development, infrastructure, policy, and communications. A large number of Georgia Tech faculty across all six colleges participated in numerous discussions on these topics, and GTMI played a critical role in coordinating and facilitating meetings and discussions on both the local and national levels.

GTMI takes a holistic approach to re-energizing U.S. manufacturing. We catalyze collaborations of industry and government across the Georgia Tech campus — from engineering, to science, to business, to policy. In addition to working closely with our academic faculty and students, GTMI personnel collaborate with all colleges, the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and Tech’s technology transfer functionaries and business incubators — to name just a few.

GTMI focuses on the complete innovation value chain — from raw and recycled resources, to prototypes and finished products. We develop advanced materials, systems, processes, education, workforce rapid certification, supply chain realignment, and policies that impact manufacturers’ performance in the marketplace. Industry-focused and customer-centric, GTMI amplifies Georgia Tech’s global reputation as the world leader in innovation-driven manufacturing.

GTMI’s road to success means fostering a manufacturing innovation ecosystem and a clear, measurable pathway that accelerates translation of interdisciplinary research into competitive products. We define our success by how fast we can move research from the lab into the real world to create substantial economic value and societal impact through public-private partnerships.

Q: How does GTMI work with and support faculty and students?

A: GTMI leverages its resources, including a small, experienced staff, to support Georgia Tech faculty and students. We provide our partners with space for research; seed grants; administrative, communications, and marketing support; and networking opportunities.
GTMI includes Georgia Tech’s 400,000 square feet of state-of-the-art manufacturing research facilities in our innovation ecosystem, and we address specific industry needs in "collaboratories" (which are co-located embedded labs), pilot plants, or prototype shops in which Georgia Tech researchers, scientists, and engineers work side-by-side with their counterparts from industry, government, and academia.

GTMI research teams dynamically engage the Georgia Tech community in responding to requests for assistance. For instance, we recently worked with a student team to develop a prototype for a medical device called MAID (Magnet Assisted Intubation Device).

GTMI is also coordinating the campuswide response to National Institute of Standards and Technology’s request for information on the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, an ongoing initiative from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology.
In addition, GTMI supports multidisciplinary, large-scale proposals such as the one for the ambitious $65 million National Additive Manufacturing Institute. Even though our proposal was not selected for funding, a coherent additive manufacturing group was established at Georgia Tech, and, as a result of this proposal, many companies are pursuing R&D opportunities with our additive manufacturing team. And the state of Georgia is creating an advanced manufacturing commercialization partnership within the Fort McPherson redevelopment.

GTMI also holds workshops to address grand challenges and develop technology road maps. In 2012, GTMI hosted a workshop on lightweight materials for the Defense Production Act Committee. This year, we are planning to host workshops on topics including: supply chain and logistics, bio-manufacturing, and production readiness.

In support of our objective to cultivate Tech’s manufacturing community, we are hosting a weekly brown bag seminar series where experts from Tech and around the country give insightful presentations and interact with the campus community. And we’re going to launch a newsletter to keep our community informed of ongoing efforts and opportunities.

Q: How is GTMI addressing manufacturing education?

A: With top-quality researchers, facilities and equipment, GTMI aims to educate and train the workforce of the future to investigate, collaborate, and compete successfully. We are accomplishing these high-priority goals through on-site programs that provide real-world research and education opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students. Examples of these opportunities include GTMI’s Manufacturing Education Certificate Program and our partnership with the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

GTMI is also partnering with the Technical College System of Georgia on collaborative, manufacturing-based instructional programs in our technical colleges around the state. Additionally, we are very involved in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) outreach activities.

Q: What does success look like in five years?

A: In five years, GTMl will:

  • Contribute substantially to the goal of doubling industry-sponsored research, as outlined by Steve Cross, Executive Vice President for Research.
  • Continue to add to the number of new manufacturing startups launched from Georgia Tech. Over the past 20 years, the Manufacturing Research Center (MaRC) has helped create 15 new companies. GTMI will amplify this startup-friendly tradition and substantially increase the number of new advanced manufacturing-focused companies.
  • Lead the national debate with thought leadership on advanced manufacturing.
  • Become the acknowledged U.S. center of accelerated translations of lab discoveries into competitive products and services.
  • Help companies cut product development times by 50 percent and development costs by 75 percent.



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