Oak Ridge National Laboratory is playing multiple roles in the region’s new Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping Center (AMP!).
The $2.4 million initiative is funded by the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Labor and three components of the Department of Commerce – Economic Development Administration, National Institute of Standards and Technology, and Small Business Administration.
In the case of DOE, the agency’s direct funding for AMP! will be used in two ways, both designed to assist manufacturers interested in embracing some aspect of advanced manufacturing, such as additive.
Tech 20/20, as the lead organization for the overall activity, was allocated a portion of the DOE funding to help launch the new “Regional Advanced Manufacturing and Prototyping Consortium (R-AMP!).” This group is comprised of owners and Plant Managers in the 20-county AMP! region who will gather regularly to discuss issues and opportunities in advanced manufacturing. . Their inaugural meeting was January 24.
The balance of the funding will be used to support a portion of the time of Jeff Cornett, ORNL’s Economic Development Program Manager, so that he can help companies wanting to work with ORNL on advanced and additive manufacturing projects
For small manufacturers, it can be challenging to understand the various mechanisms for engaging ORNL researchers and physical capabilities like the new Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF). That’s the role that Cornett will play. He understands the difference between a Non-Federal Work for Others and a User Facility Agreement, and he knows where manufacturing expertise exists.
Cornett acknowledges that he does not have funding for projects, so a good deal of his time will likely be spent helping companies that have funding to navigate the system. He does, however, know of some potential pockets of DOE funding that might be available for companies to leverage. One possibility is the MDF Technical Collaborations Program (TCP).
Chad Duty, Group Leader of ORNL’s Deposition Science & Technology Group, described it as a “seedling program” to develop a proof of concept. It is a short-term collaborative technology assessment intended to accelerate commercial implementation of advanced manufacturing and materials technologies, a concept that aligns very nicely with the AMP! goals.
Duty said a typical additive manufacturing client could be a company that has “a manufacturing process where they have something complex, a lot of waste, or small runs.” In that case, he said the manufacturer is eligible to apply for the TCP where DOE funds match every company investment on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a maximum of $40,000.
There are many other examples where companies are eligible to apply for the TCP opportunity.
While emphasizing that the MDF is not a job shop – DOE does not allow labs to compete with the private sector, Jennifer Palmer, ORNL’s Business Development Manager for the Advanced Manufacturing Program, said the MDF can be very useful in helping a company “explore the potential for new applications of existing or emerging materials technologies, and in understanding new ways of manufacturing a product.”
Duty added that “we have a very broad toolbox with a lot of capabilities.”
The MDF, which is located off Hardin Valley Road in West Knoxville, has two key focus areas – additive manufacturing and carbon fiber and composites – as well as state of the art equipment.
Coincidentally the MDF served in early January as a kick-off site for the Smoky Mountain Regional FIRST Robotics Competition. This is an activity where a number of ORNL researchers devote their time to mentoring high school student teams. And, while it is not funded by the DOE monies, Tech 20/20 is using AMP! grant funds from another of the federal agencies to support and expand the robotics competition.