Oe on One with Gloria Wiens Ph.D

FloridaMakes Director of Advanced Manufacturing

Gloria Wiens Ph.D – BRIDG

We are living in the midst of what might be described as a second Industrial Revolution. It is a complete reset on what manufacturing looks like, what it can produce and how it is perceived as a career choice. One of the thought leaders in this dynamic period of change, growth and development is Gloria Wiens, Ph.D., an associate professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering on leave from the University of Florida, where she also served as director of the Space Automation and Manufacturing Mechanisms Laboratory. Wiens spent two years at the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office in Washington as assistant director for Research Partnerships and ASME Foundation Swanson Fellow. A recognized expert in intelligent and autonomous robotic systems, she now is involved with BRIDG (formerly ICAMR) on behalf of FloridaMakes, a statewide service designed to strengthen Florida’s manufacturing sector.

EW: Few have a more strategic view of where manufacturing is going in the U.S. and Florida than you. Broad brush: where do we stand?

GW: I have had the unique opportunity to see manufacturing through a different lens. Based on my involvement at the national level, we observed U.S. manufacturing suffering the impact of the 2001 ‘first-time ever’ negative trade balance for advanced technology products and from manufacturing ‘off-shoring.’ This created a hole in the supply chain and lack of skilled workforce, making it difficult for manufacturers trying to ‘re-shore.’ To address these challenges, the public-private sector came together over the past decade and worked to implement programs, provide resources and generate changes in public policy that enhance our national position. The current momentum indicates that these efforts will continue to grow.

EW: How will manufacturing evolve in the US. over the next 10 years?

GW: I think over the next 10 years the Manufacturing USA program (a Federal initiative) and its Innovation Institutes will be key players in how manufacturing develops in the U.S. Manufacturing USA connects people, ideas, and technology to solve industry-relevant advanced manufacturing challenges. Its goals are to enhance industrial competitiveness, increase economic growth, and strengthen U.S. national security. Reaching across industries, it brings members of the manufacturing community together to overcome technical hurdles and enable innovative new products. It seeks to restore American preeminence in manufacturing by addressing shared manufacturing technology and workforce challenges. 

Manufacturing USA has also created institutes to focus on moving promising, early-stage research into proven capacities ready for adoption by U.S. manufacturers. Over the past four years of the program, 14 manufacturing innovation institutes have been established or announced. These manufacturing institutes are public-private partnerships, each have distinct technology focus areas but work towards a common goal. For instance, BRIDG has partnered with the 14th innovation institute, Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM), to transition smart sensor technology into robotic systems.

EW: Often federal programs work fabulously well and other times they are wanting. What are the keys to ensuring these outcomes are realized?

GW: I think it comes down to effective partnerships between the public (government) and private sectors. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology and its Subcommittee on Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP 2.0) recommended a set of steps the federal government can take to further U.S. advanced manufacturing capabilities. They focused on implementation of the 16 recommendations presented under the three pillars: (1) Enable Innovation (2) Improve the Business Climate (3) Secure the
Talent Pipeline.

EW: One of these points underscores the need to change the perception of young people, parents and society about what a manufacturing career will be like in the future. What are your thoughts on changing that perception and how does the U.S. and Florida ensure it has a talent pipeline to support the anticipated need?

GW: We have to alter the misconception of manufacturing as something ‘dirty, dangerous, dark and declining,’ to the reality of today’s manufacturing – ‘interesting, innovative, impactful, and (most of all) increasing.’  This is done through education and awareness, not only of the young, but their parents, teachers, school counselors and others. One national effort towards changing that image is Manufacturing Day (held annually on the first Friday in October), where manufacturers open their doors to the public to provide a firsthand view of today’s manufacturing.

Florida’s Career Academies and Career Themed Programs also are excellent approaches for ensuring a talent pipeline to support anticipated needs
of manufacturing.

In addition, FloridaMakes, working with CareerSource Florida, is garnering input from manufacturers and Florida’s regional manufacturing associations to help identify the current and future skills needed and strategies that are needed to support manufacturing talent development.

EW: What is BRIDG’s role in developing this region as a manufacturing nexus? Is it meeting or exceeding expectations in terms of interest and involvement?

GW: The BRIDG facility will provide the infrastructure that will enable the world’s first industry-led smart sensor consortium. Quite literally, we will bridge the gap between conceptual design and unrivaled economies of scale needed for cost-effective manufacturing.

There is a lot of needed attention focused on the “Valley of Death,” the chasm between cutting-edge research in our universities and the manufacture of these new products to meet worldwide consumer demand. Much of that research is currently going overseas to be manufactured, and that is the gap BRIDG is designed to fill here in the U.S.

The initial 109,000-square-foot facility will be the first step in servicing the needs of researchers, developers, and commercialized manufacturers of smart sensors, optics, photonics and other advanced devices. This is the most advanced, state-of-the-art manufacturing research facility in the Western Hemisphere and we believe it will be the catalyst that brings the whole process together in one collaborative location. This would include designers/developers, engineers, supply chain companies and distributors, and light manufacturers. The nature of the 500-acre site (called NeoCity) will also encourage close collaboration between the different steps in the design, manufacturing and supply chain process. 

As to interest and involvement, it is exceeding expectations based on our timeline of operations. Imec brings a vast amount of companies to collaborate with BRIDG to produce prototypes and support commercialized low-volume manufacturing. We are in discussions with more than 40 different companies considering technical projects, as well as considering a physical presence at the master site – NeoCity – in Osceola County, Fla. The excitement is building in the marketplace that central Florida is the place to be if you want to participate in the next generation of sensor technology that is currently estimated at $19 trillion and expected to grow to $32 trillion by 2025.

EW: Explain the scope and purpose of FloridaMakes and your role in the organization.

GW: We are a service designed to strengthen Florida’s high wage, value-add manufacturing sector and are the state affiliate of the nationwide National Institute of Standards and Technology, Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) program. FloridaMakes works with companies interested in investing in themselves to help them become more competitive by adopting and integrating advanced technologies, best practices and training.

BRIDG is one of FloridaMakes partners. My role as the Director of Advanced Manufacturing is to be a resource for FloridaMakes business advisors with companies requiring technology-oriented solutions. In addition, my role is to help manufacturers benefit from the expertise and technology resources of BRIDG, Florida’s university and state college system, and national assets available through NIST and the Manufacturing USA network. I also help advocate for and represent the needs of Small and Medium Sized Manufacturers (SMEs) within BRIDG.

My job is not only to serve as a connector for technology available within the state but also to help Florida manufacturers benefit from nationally-available technology resources and expertise. We live in a remarkable time as the growth of technology is changing every industry and how products are developed, produced and delivered. 

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