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June 08, 2020 | Tom Ballard

IACMI’s John Hopkins pens message about resilience

John Hopkins, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), sent this commentary on the Knoxville-based organization and the responses of the non-profit and its members to the COVID-19 pandemic. We thought it was a good message about the always important concept of resilience and are sharing it here.

Resilient. That is the word that comes to mind the most as I look back over the past three months.

COVID-19 has impacted our lives in so many unprecedented ways. My heart aches for the people that have lost family members and friends to this deadly virus.

In just a short period of time, the coronavirus has fundamentally altered the way we live our lives and how nearly everyone conducts business. My work calendar over the past three months has been filled with conference calls, Zoom, Teams and WebEx meetings. Daily, I have spoken with people in a variety of organizations about COVID-related topics such as masks, face shields, ventilators, and test supplies, as well as the advanced composite materials used to make these items, the scalable innovation and immediate manufacturing needed, and supply chain independence required to respond to this emergency.

Many of you – our 150+ IACMI members – know this feeling all too well. You have transitioned and adapted your essential operations to meet the health and safety needs of your local communities as well as the nation. At the same time, many of you have pivoted to ensure that your organization’s vision and strategic plan remain on course while adjusting to a changing business ecosystem. You have been forced to rethink priorities and potentially accelerate new initiatives centered on how they will serve your customers in the post-COVID era.

Our IACMI members are resilient. They make up and support the composites supply chain and include material suppliers; tiers 1, 2 & 3 suppliers; automotive and wind OEMs and fabricators; academia; and national laboratories. The current coronavirus pandemic underscores the importance of having our consortium aligned and connected with each other as a community, and the broader connectivity provided by the Manufacturing USA Institutes as a network of these communities, so we can accelerate technical innovations and rapidly manufacture solutions to meet U.S. demand.

Our IACMI innovation partners and members have demonstrated their creativity and resilience in support of multiple response initiatives. These efforts span timeline and manufacturing scales and address regional and national needs, from reconfiguring production lines and supply chains for large volume production of N95 filter materials to leveraging digital tools to accelerate redesign of components and tooling for large volume production of PPE and COVID diagnostic testing supplies.

These stories tell themselves and feature innovative thinking and clever collaboration as illustrated just this week by Coca-Cola and Oak Ridge National Laboratory working together to develop COVID19 test kits. (See other responses efforts here.)

COVID-19 is forcing all U.S. industries to become more resilient, responsive and more agile. As IACMI delivers on its current goals, we will continue working with our partners to improve the domestic manufacturing base and related supply chain resiliency and adaptability. This is not only critical for meeting the continued need for extensive quantities of PPE and diagnostic components during the crisis but will also accelerate U.S. economic recovery.

By the way, not all our Zoom-Teams-WebEx virtual meetings have been COVID related. Our collaborative work to drive the adoption of advanced composites and grow U.S. manufacturing and support national security has continued, albeit in non-traditional, virtual and safe distancing environments. This goes for most of our partners, whether they are pushing for the adoption of advanced composites in new infrastructure, pursuing a vision to create a supply chain path for coal to carbon fiber or developing a composites-related workforce for current and future manufacturing.

Experts vary in their assessment of the extent of the damage related to the virus; however, most agree that the impact will be severe, both in terms of the economy as well as the populous’ well-being. Despite our resiliency, the crisis response has shown more clearly the challenges that our U.S. manufacturing supply chain faces providing emergency and surge response. Further, the impact of offshoring of specific parts of the supply chain has created vulnerabilities for the country. Greater adaptability and resilience of the domestic manufacturing base is necessary for national security and global competitiveness and will accelerate economic recovery.

There have been several novel contributions by additive manufacturing recently to help better the crisis. Items that support the fabrication of masks, face shields, and other components for medical services, for example, have been developed by researchers across the country. COVID puts additive manufacturing in a different context where you really see in a concentrated way the importance of this manufacturing practice on the economy and nation’s safety as well as the national security interest that IACMI and everyone in the composites field have all been working toward.

Throughout it all, IACMI and  our consortium will remain steadfast in using every tool we have at our disposal to make a positive difference and to plan, design and provide new solutions that will enable our consortium environment to be more resilient.

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