Where Innovative Manufacturers Forge the Future: MxD

Student interns benefit from a demonstration on 3D modeling and printing at MxD. (All photos courtesy of MxD)

For those looking for real-world examples of digital manufacturing, MxD (Manufacturing x Digital) is a resource-rich institute that offers hands-on tools and projects that make an impact today and pave the way for innovation tomorrow.

In partnership with the Department of Defense (DoD), MxD equips US factories with the digital tools, cybersecurity and workforce expertise needed to build each part better than the last. As a result, approximately 300 MxD Partners confidently claim they have increased productivity, won more business and/or strengthened US manufacturing.

In a conversation with Berardino Baratta, who worked at MxD for three years in technology strategy and engineering before being named CEO earlier this year, he shared his optimism for the future and his thoughts on key initiatives of MxD, which operates out of a state-of-the-art innovation center in Chicago, Illinois. As Baratta talked about the 22,000 square foot factory used to test and demonstrate new technologies, he explained how it also serves as a hub to train current and future workforce on new systems and tools, as well as to demonstrate the mission critical need for cybersecurity in manufacturing.

Formed in 2014, MxD began as the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII). “Digital touches every aspect of the product development lifecycle, from design to manufacturing, supply chain to end of life,” Baratta said, adding that data is central to this direction. digital. “In 2019, we became the Cybersecurity Institute. We are the only institute to have a dual mission, while most focus on a single area, such as materials or additive manufacturing. We can walk into an organization and look at not only the creation of digital, but also how the organization can secure those assets,” he explained, noting that the scope of digital, workforce workforce, supply chain and cybersecurity shows the true impact of MxD.

Berardino Baratta, CEO of MxD

Bringing people together to solve problems

Above all, Baratta said MxD is a unifier that brings people together. “DoD stakeholders, as well as industry and academia, walk into a room and start talking,” he said. “Information is shared. Best practices are shared. But what is really interesting is that the problems are shared. These pain points – the things that keep manufacturers awake at night – are what we are starting to look at to identify issues that run through the industry,” Baratta explained. “It’s not necessarily about helping Boeing build a better airframe or Oshkosh building a better elevator, it’s about what those problems are that Boeing, Oshkosh and Dow have.”

Once they discover these common problems, which are usually not ones that a single entity would have the ability to invest in alone, Baratta explained, the public/private partnership kicks in. “We work together to try to solve these problems,” he added.

Approach to problem solving

A fundamental function of MxD is to provide concrete and practical advice to those seeking information on digital manufacturing. In its simplest form, MxD offers an advice column called “Ask Deb from QA”. People can submit questions to debfromqa@mxdusa.org and “Deb”, likened to an industry veteran with decades of factory experience, will answer questions to demystify the digital manufacturing industry.

Recent questions include “What is predictive maintenance and why am I hearing so much about it?” and “What is a human digital twin?” Baratta said MxD’s “Ask Deb” column helps people understand small nuggets of information, inspiring them to do their own research on topics related to digital manufacturing.

For those who need a deeper dive, MxD provides comprehensive resources in the form of manuals, which walk people through a process, like resolving cybersecurity issues.

Assembly test bench in the factory of the MxD innovation center.

MxD knows what he’s talking about. As the DoD-designated National Center for Cybersecurity in Manufacturing, MxD recently launched the Cyber ​​Resource Hub, which serves as a clearinghouse for MxD’s suite of cybersecurity tools and content. A key asset within the MxD Cyber ​​Resource Hub is the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) 2.0 Playbook, which is designed to increase US manufacturer readiness and compliance. The playbook is intended for manufacturers and their suppliers who have or seek to have contracts with the US Department of Defense, which requires contractors to properly safeguard sensitive information.

Baratta pointed out that manufacturing is facing unprecedented complexity as business owners seek to secure their operations. In fact, the risk of cyberattacks is expected to double by 2025, according to a 2020 Global Risks Report from the World Economic Forum. Of the country’s 250,000 manufacturers, 75% have fewer than 20 employees and lack the expertise to prevent and respond to attacks. The report goes on to say that among these small and medium manufacturers (SMMs), attacks can go undetected for months due to a lack of training and awareness. “They don’t have a CISO, and probably don’t have an IT department or an IT person,” Baratta said. “Our goal as a national center is to help these SMMs understand their risks and prioritize fixes.”

Projects that have an impact

Collaborative projects bring MxD partners together to solve digital problems outside of their core competencies, connecting academic researchers, startups, and the U.S. government to launch digital manufacturing ventures with commercial potential.

Demonstrating the maturity of the institute, MxD has launched 120 projects to date – some completed and others in progress – with more than $150 million invested in R&D, according to Baratta. He shared a sample project spurred on by conversations with various SMM representatives. When asked what is stopping them from adopting digital, the answer was overwhelmingly the cost of entry and the cost of failure.

A detailed look at the robotic arm on the discrete test bench.

“Small manufacturers can’t afford to play ‘what if’ and figure out how to succeed despite failure,” Baratta said. “They need a higher level of confidence in how to do things.” As a result, MxD created an ROI calculator that shows a comprehensive business case for adopting digital manufacturing. SMMs can see what it’s going to cost in investment of money and people, what the payback period is and what success looks like, Baratta said. The ROI Calculator will be made available to MxD members and eventually the broader manufacturing community, allowing manufacturers to understand the challenge, investment, timeline and results.

While the ROI calculator works for SMMs and has value for large manufacturers, there are a host of leading manufacturer-oriented projects around computer vision, artificial intelligence, and other priorities.

Workforce Development in Action

Will tomorrow’s workforce be prepared? MxD is working on that, Baratta said. “By 2030, more than two million jobs will be vacant. These jobs won’t be the same as they were 20 years ago,” he added, citing a report that said 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have yet to be created. To this end, MxD’s workforce development initiatives have developed taxonomies that define the skill sets needed. Bringing together experts from industry, academia and government to inform both the digital taxonomy and a cybersecurity hiring guide with over 417 defined roles.

Student tour participants learn about the functions of the Process Manufacturing Cybersecurity Testbed.

Baratta said some members have embraced the roles and put them into practice. “One of Dow’s engineers told our workforce team that her job exists because of our hiring guide. It defined a role, Dow believed in that role, they created a position, and she held this position.

Success profiles and career paths are also important pieces of the workforce development puzzle. MxD works with academic partners to create a curriculum and make it available for people to see what success looks like at any stage of a career. There is also a focus on helping companies train and retain skilled, agile and digitally savvy workers. This is to solve a serious problem, as the manufacturing sector faces both a skills deficit and a perception deficit.

One of the key takeaways from the conversation with Baratta is that careers in manufacturing are exciting, mission-driven, and fulfilling. After a recent conversation with his two predecessors at the helm of MxD, Baratta recalled that they planted the seed, germinated it, and fostered growth. “Now I can see it through and see what we can accomplish. How could you not love your job.


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