Demystifying Advanced Manufacturing and its potential to revolutionize industries: An Interview with Tom Kurfess, Chief Manufacturing Officer at Oak Ridge National Lab

Jan 14, 2022

By Tricia Martinez, Managing Director of the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator

This past week I had the privilege of sharing some questions with Thomas R. Kurfess, who was formerly the CMO of ORNL and currently holds a joint appointment with ORNL and Georgia Tech.

Some background on Tom, prior to ORNL, Tom served as the Assistant Director for Advanced Manufacturing at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Executive Office of the President of the United States of America, where he was responsible for coordinating Federal advanced manufacturing R&D. He was President of SME in 2018, and currently serves on the Board of Governors of the ASME. His research focuses on the design and development of advanced manufacturing systems targeting secure digital manufacturing, additive and subtractive processes, and large-scale production enterprises. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is a Fellow of ASME, AAAS, and SME. 

Question 1: What is Advanced Manufacturing and how is it different from traditional manufacturing?

Advanced manufacturing utilizes more modern approaches and processes in manufacturing such as the digital thread, additive manufacturing or integrated material design. I would say that if the process or concept was available in the 1980’s and has not changed / improved since then, then it is not advanced manufacturing. This also includes the use of HPC/cloud operations on manufacturing systems as well as cybersecurity for manufacturing. 

Question 2: How will Advanced Manufacturing change industry? In other words, what will our industrial world look like in 10 years from now?

It will make our manufacturing ecosystem more agile, resilient, and robust. It will allow us to quickly produce next generation goods using next generation processes without a long lead time for technology adoption. In 10 years, we will have completely secured digitally integrated manufacturing supply chains that will allow production of components, subsystems and final systems / products in a seamless manner.

Question 3: What are Advanced Manufacturing’s greatest challenges today? What is holding these technologies back from advancing?

The two greatest challenges are having a digitally secure connected manufacturing ecosystem. The second greatest challenge is the lack of use and know-how for small and medium sized manufactures (SMMs) on how to leverage and utilize the latest and greatest technologies that are available to all manufacturers. The machines and systems that SMMs are purchasing at present have the capabilities, they are just not being utilized.

Question 4: Where do you see the greatest opportunity for Advanced Manufacturing today and in the future?

Leveraging the digital thread to fully utilize manufacturing systems at all levels small-to-medium-to large throughout the manufacturing ecosystem is the greatest opportunity for advanced manufacturing. This will enable the ability to integrate new capabilities such as additive manufacturing, as well as to ensure the best use of older legacy processes and systems. Finally, the digital thread will ensure that our workforce is fully spun up on the best use of modern technologies, such that U.S. manufacturing operations maximize the value of our workforce.

Question 5: What is an example of an Advanced Manufacturing project or technology today that excites you?

The integration of additive and subtractive manufacturing on a machine tool into a hybrid system is quite exciting. That linked into next generation CAD/CAM systems to drive these machines makes for a very powerful tool set. Finally, the ability to record all process parameters to ensure that the component is produced correctly, and is born qualified completes a very exciting story.

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About the Author
Tricia Martinez

Tricia Martínez is the Managing Director of the Techstars Industries of the Future Accelerator. Tricia is an experienced serial entrepreneur, executive, and activist passionate about driving large-scale impact through technology and innovation. Tricia has earned titles including top 20 founders of color by Conscious Company Magazine, Hispanic Entrepreneur of the Year by USHCC, a top 100 FinTech Leader, among others. Tricia is also an alumna of the London Barclays Accelerator, powered by Techstars participating in the 2016 program with her blockchain-enabled financial services platform, Wala.