USC hosts The International Manufacturing Research Conference 2017

| June 19, 2017

Academia, industry converge for LA-based trifecta of manufacturing research conferences.

The International Manufacturing Conference 2017 features many state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies, including 3-D printing. Pictured are 3-D printed objects from Associate Professor Yong Chen’s laboratory. Photo courtesy of USC Viterbi

Megabytes, megalopolis and megalomania are all well-known “mega” words. Has the time now arrived for “megaconference” to enter our vernacular?

As the SoCal “June Gloom” marine layer emerged, over 700 faculty members, industry players and students flocked to USC for the International Manufacturing Research Conference 2017. The flagship meeting was held June 4-8 on the University Park Campus.

Co-chaired by Associate Professor Yong Chen from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering and Professor Xiaochun Li from the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, the event encompassed three joint conferences: the 45th Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME)’s North American Manufacturing Research Conference (NAMRC 45); the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME)’s International Manufacturing Science and Engineering Conference (MSEC 2017); and the Japan Society of Mechanical Engineers (JSME)’s International Conference on Materials Processing (ICM&P 2017).

“This is a major manufacturing research conference internationally,” Chen said, referring to the conference collective. “Every year, the manufacturing research community has this conference to gather together, exchange ideas, and showcase the latest developments.”

Led by Chen, whose expertise is in advanced manufacturing and 3-D printing, the conference team poured themselves into planning the colossal event for the past year. The five-day program included workshops, technical sessions, symposia, student design competitions, the NSF-sponsored “Blue Sky” competition and three keynote speakers: Professor Jim Davis (UCLA), Professor Friedrich Prinz (Stanford) and Mr. Scott Willoughby (Northrop Grumman).

When asked why USC was selected to host, Chen said: “In the west coast, Los Angeles is a major hub of manufacturing. [LA] is also very attractive to international people, especially people from Asian countries, and this is the year that the Japanese research community will join us [ICM&P Conference occurs every three years].”

Jie Jin, a USC Viterbi PhD student advised by Chen, was recognized in the Manufacturing Processes Track with the NAMRC Outstanding Technical Paper for his work titled “Highly Removable Water Support for Stereolithography.” His first publication as a doctoral student, Jin was presented the honor at the NAMRI/SME Awards Ceremony Luncheon on June 7. 

“I am so excited that my work is recognized by my peers who let me know that what I am doing is significant,” Jie said. “As the saying goes, ‘Well begun is half done’.”

Other key events were receptions in the California Science Center’s Samuel Oschin Shuttle Endeavor Display Pavilion and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, three award luncheons and an early career forum and student reception. On Tuesday evening, participants were invited to join site tours of USC’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CAM), M.C. Gill Composites Center and GamePipe Laboratory.

Many symposia examined the role of advanced manufacturing technologies in the future of mankind. During an MSEC Symposium, Dr. William C. Regli, Acting Director of the Defense Sciences Office in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) presented “A New Kind of Thinking: Revolutionizing Design and Manufacturing.”

In the talk, Regli emphasized the growing symbiosis between humans and machines that results in “cognitive amplification,” a concept that transfers to the new wave of manufacturing.

He told the story of Lee Sodol, an elite player of the strategy game Go, getting bested in competition by Google’s AlphaGo computer program, stating: “The machine saw something in the game that the best Go player in the world didn’t see. There is a symbiotic capacity of man and machine where the machine is no longer just a tool but is actually amplifying human cognition.” 

The machine saw something in the game that the best Go player in the world didn’t see.Dr. William C. Regli, DARPA

Another conference highlight drawing a sizable crowd was the NAMRI/SME David Dornfeld Manufacturing Vision Award and Blue Sky Competition sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The inaugural event featured nine finalists selected from a pool of 52 abstracts. Each presenter had 15 minutes to expound on their manufacturing vision in hopes to attain the award honoring the late Dr. David A. Dornfeld from the UC Berkeley College of Engineering. The prize recognizes “outstanding vision and leadership within the manufacturing community.”

Professor Tony Schmitz from the University of North Carolina-Charlotte received the award for his presentation titled “Biomimetic Manufacturing.”

In his illuminating talk, Schmitz proposed that the next generation of manufacturing innovation will come from biomimetics, or the imitation of models found in nature. One of several examples provided, Schmitz explained that termite swarms produce enzymes to break down cellulose in wood. These enzymes can be studied and leveraged in “subtractive” manufacturing processes used in material removal.

USC Viterbi Professor SK Gupta, who spearheaded the tour of the CAM facility (to which he serves as director), remarked on the serendipity of conference timing and location.

“The Southern California region is home to many leading manufacturing companies in aerospace, defense, and the biomedical devices area,” Gupta said. “USC is a major research university in the region with a new initiative and focus on advanced manufacturing, so it was an ideal place to host this conference.”

A special thanks to Shelly Lewis, business manager in the USC Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering for her invaluable efforts in planning the conference.