By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
It was a day of first opportunities when the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association (TAMA) held its quarterly meeting on Thursday at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL).
For the statewide association, it was the first time it had convened at ORNL and, as TAMA President Tom Brewer acknowledged, it was one of the few meetings the organization has held anywhere other than Middle Tennessee.
About 60 people turned-out for the event, a clear indication to TAMA and its ORNL host that the decision was a good one. That fact was reinforced when Brewer asked two questions – how many were attending their first TAMA meeting and how many were visiting ORNL for the first time. The vast majority of the crowd responded “yes” to both questions.
“Our industry is on a roll,” Brewer said. “It’s a wonderful time to be in Tennessee.”
Part of his optimism is the recent Brookings Institution report titled “Drive! Moving Tennessee’s Automotive Sector Up the Value Chain.”
Saying details are still being finalized, Brewer noted that the report “has given us (TAMA) a roadmap to follow.”
For ORNL, the luncheon meeting was an opportunity to showcase its expertise, both research areas and facilities, to potential customers.
“We want to introduce you to the capabilities at DOE’s (Department of Energy) largest science and energy lab,” said Tom Rogers, ORNL’s Director Industrial Partnership and Economic Development. “We are looking for ways that we can help you.”
Three ORNL researchers briefly discussed their areas of expertise and described existing or potential collaborations.
Ken Tobin, an ORNL Division Director, drew a connection between a fundamental element of an automobile – its engine – and the lab’s internationally-acclaimed Spallation Neutron Source (SNS).
“We can look at an engine block fairly easily using neutrons,” he told the attendees in describing VENUS, a new instrument being installed at the SNS that can look a residual stress.
Edgar Lara-Curzio, Director of the High Temperature Materials Laboratory, noted ORNL’s long-term expertise in materials science and shared a number of slides showing research collaborations with companies like General Motors and John Deere.
Development Engineer Roger Miller discussed ORNL’s welding expertise and the ability to predict where residual stress will occur as well as ways to prevent it.
To reinforce the relationship that exists between automotive companies and the lab, ORNL turned to executives from Eagle Bend Manufacturing, Inc., in Clinton. The subsidiary of Magna International used the lab’s testing expertise to validate a new process that reduced the need for million dollar lasers and gave the supplier a significant price advantage over its competition.
Following the program, most of the attendees were treated to a tour of ORNL’s National Transportation Research Center and Manufacturing Development Facility.