Among the framed family snapshots and pictures taken with dignitaries that adorn the walls of his office inside Rochester Institute of Technology’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS), Nabil Nasr has prominently displayed over his desk a photograph of the late Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs with the quote: “And we’ve all chosen to do this with our lives. So it better be damn good. It better be worth it.”
Jobs’ passionate words resonate strongly with Nasr, associate provost and GIS director.
“People always tell me that we must have a passion test to work at GIS,” Nasr said. “You can’t do what we do here every day and not feel strongly compelled to do this important work … especially when the world demands it.”
That fervency of spirit has combined with research know-how to catapult RIT to take on more and more significant roles in the quest to transform manufacturing— locally, regionally, nationally, and globally. It has positioned the university as a national leader in designing energy-efficient methods to achieve more advanced and clean energy manufacturing.
Today, this nearly 19,000-student university, which traces its earliest roots to providing professional development to the workforce at the Rochester-area region’s major manufacturers, is steering nationwide efforts to revitalize and revamp manufacturing methods across a wide range of industries.
One of the latest and most prominent efforts is as leader of the federal REMADE initiative, part of Manufacturing USA, a network of regional institutes tasked with bridging the gap between research and product development in key technology areas regarded as critical to U.S. manufacturing.
Manufacturing USA, formerly known as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, or NNMI, was launched by the Obama administration in 2012 as a nationwide network of regional institutes—each charged with a specialized technology focus. The initiative includes more than 1,300 companies, universities, and nonprofit organizations. The federal government has committed more than $1 billion, matched by more than $2 billion in additional investment across the network.
RIT is actively engaged in seven of the 14 Manufacturing USA institutes— among the top five universities in participation. REMADE, short for Reducing Embodied-energy and Decreasing Emissions, is a national coalition consisting of 26 leading universities, 44 companies, seven national labs, 26 industry trade associations and foundations, and three states working collaboratively to forge new clean energy initiatives.
REMADE, under the Sustainable Manufacturing Innovation Alliance (SMIA), is leveraging up to $70 million in federal funding that will be matched by $70 million in private cost-share commitments from industry and a $20 million commitment from New York state. Its focus: driving down the cost of technologies essential to reuse, recycle, and remanufacture materials such as metals, fibers, polymers, and e-waste. The initiative aims to achieve aggressive measures that could save billions of dollars in energy costs and improve U.S. economic competitiveness through new manufacturing techniques, small-business opportunities, and new training and jobs for American workers.
“Almost a third of the energy in the United States goes into manufacturing,” said Mark Johnson, director of the Advanced Manufacturing Office, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy at the U.S. Department of Energy. “About half of that energy—what we call embodied energy—goes into the making of materials, and about half of those materials end up being thrown away within the first year of being manufactured.”
Johnson noted that initiatives such as REMADE are tasked with solving the biggest challenges facing the U.S. manufacturing industry.
“The resources within our universities and national lab systems are the envy of the rest of the world,” Johnson said. “We need to open them up to work with our manufacturers. That’s what these institutes are all about when it comes to these 21st century challenges—mobilizing industry ranging from Fortune 500 companies to startups.”
Nasr, who credited his team at GIS for working tirelessly on the REMADE proposal for the better part of a year, said the initiative represents an unprecedented opportunity “to finally address issues of the entire lifecycle of manufacturing in a comprehensive and integrated fashion.
“This is the first time in the U.S. that we’re bringing these areas and expertise under one program, one vision,” he said.
Within one week of the REMADE announcement, GIS was named a core academic partner in the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing (ARM) Institute, led by Carnegie Mellon University and awarded through the Department of Defense.
The other Manufacturing USA initiatives involving RIT include Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Institute (NextFlex), Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII), the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (America Makes), and American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics), which is also based in Rochester.
The Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute—for which GIS was named a core academic partner last June—includes the development of smart sensors for use in advanced manufacturing. These sensors will help manufacturers better design, measure, predict, and control all aspects of the manufacturing process. As a result, traditional manufacturing processes will become more productive and efficient.
By modernizing the energy and water intensive manufacturing techniques that have been in place for decades and increasing energy efficiency, the United States can lower the cost of processing food, dramatically shrink the footprint of equipment needed on a crowded factory floor, and increase the efficiency of products that range from industrial motors to household appliances.
For the DMDII initiative, GIS is supporting the Department of Defense (DoD), including the integration of design data across product lifecycles, reducing manufacturing costs and development time, and improving the “digital divide” across the DoD’s overall supply base.
“There is no comparison to the infrastructure that we can bring to bear on manufacturing challenges today,” said Ryne Raffaelle, vice president for research and associate provost, who cited the rapid development of RIT’s facilities under retiring RIT President Bill Destler as a major catalyst to the university’s ascension as a national manufacturing powerhouse.
“We are infinitely prepared to work on these challenges,” he added. “We have unique tools that we’re among the first in the nation to have. People from the national labs see our prototyping facilities and—while they are bigger and receive more funding—they’re jealous of our remarkable facilities.”
Denis Cormier, director of the Center for Advanced Technology on Additive Manufacturing and Multifunctional Printing—or AMPrint Center— is leading a team of multidisciplinary researchers in two Manufacturing USA institutes: NextFlex (flexible hybrid electronics) and America Makes (additive manufacturing). RIT has already been awarded funding on both project funding calls by the NextFlex institute.
Cormier, RIT’s Earl W. Brinkman Professor, came to RIT nearly eight years ago from North Carolina State University as a leading expert in rapid prototyping, the precursor to 3D printing. He is part of a growing number of researchers who have joined RIT over the last decade to further grow and enhance the university’s rapidly growing reputation in applied research and advanced manufacturing.
The NextFlex institute is being managed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. RIT is contributing expertise in high-performance print systems and functionality, engineering processes, and materials development, led by Cormier and Shu Chang, the Melbert B. Cary Jr. Distinguished Professor in RIT’s College of Imaging Arts and Sciences.
Flexible electronics involves assembling electronic devices by printing circuit patterns on flexible substrates and then placing the electronic components where needed. The technology has the potential to create an array of products varying from wearable devices to improved medical health monitoring technologies, according to Cormier. It also is expected to increase the variety and capability of sensors that already interconnect the globe, resulting in applications for both consumers and the military.
RIT was proud to be named a member of America Makes, the pilot Manufacturing USA initiative, back in 2012, Cormier said. Yet while he and his RIT colleagues are excited to work on future ways that printed electronics will be used in consumer goods such as smart watches and personal health monitoring devices, he credits the university’s leadership for not losing sight of its important mission to students as RIT becomes a leading national manufacturing resource.
“RIT has a strong reputation as a world-class teaching university, and there has been a very careful and deliberate effort to grow the university’s applied research expertise while not sacrificing the quality of an education here,” Cormier said. “That’s hard to do, frankly. I still teach classes. I don’t think you deserve to call yourself a professor if you don’t teach students. I believe that RIT’s longtime commitment to academics has helped further develop our already phenomenal reputation with the manufacturing industry.”
The REMADE Institute will leverage the 84,000-square-foot GIS building’s state-of-the-art facilities that house specialized research laboratories and graduate student work areas, powered by its distinctive green features such as a fuel cell, microgrid, and geothermal system.
Among the specialized labs that will help spur the REMADE initiative is the material science lab. Studies of material aging, wear, and failure analysis are conducted inside the lab, vital research to the development of longer lasting materials and more reliable and durable remanufactured parts. Improved materials, for example, can be studied and evaluated for greater strength and reduced weight to improve fuel economy.
REMADE partners have identified an ambitious set of five-year goals, including:
- Reducing primary feedstock consumption in manufacturing by 30 percent;
- Achieving 25-percent reduction in embodied energy of targeted materials;
- Attaining cost parity for secondary materials;Improving energy efficiency of secondary material processing by 30 percent;
- Increasing the size of the remanufacturing industry by 100 percent.
REMADE will develop and implement an education and workforce development program that will fill workforce gaps identified by its industry, government, and academic partners and build the next generation of the recycling and remanufacturing workforce.
The workforce development strategy will involve leveraging the capabilities of partner organizations, including industry, community colleges, and the national manufacturing extension partnership programs; integrating education and training into pilot remanufacturing and recycling projects with industry; establishing standards-based education and certification programs for secondary-school students through the incumbent industry workforce; and outreach to under-represented populations, veterans, and dislocated workers.
In leading the recently established REMADE Institute, Nasr said the initiative will go a long way toward helping the university realize its goal of becoming the world’s premier institute for sustainability, adding that GIS’s singular passion will remain steadfastly focused on the industrial system and the built environment.
“I believe that universities have a big obligation to help society, to lead, and provide significant contributions to the advancement of society,” he said. “You do that by educating the next generation of professionals and by conducting cutting-edge research for the betterment of all.”
Raffaelle is confident that RIT is up to the task with REMADE, and the other Manufacturing USA initiatives.
“All of these manufacturing wins have afforded us the opportunity to do great things,” he said. “Now it’s all about delivering on the opportunity. These wins are a chance to do something great.”