ICAMS serving small and medium manufacturers since 2018

Published: Jun 25, 2024 2:00 PM

By Dustin Duncan

Auburn University's Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems (ICAMS) dedicates itself to serving small- and medium-sized manufacturers throughout the southeastern United States.

Established in 2018 in the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, ICAMS is a partnership between Auburn University, the U.S. Department of Defense and the City of Auburn. Its goal is to reduce barriers to the adoption of advanced manufacturing technology and foster workforce development. 

ICAMS provides state-of-the-art equipment, expert training and cutting-edge research to ensure that new and current employees have the necessary skills for modern manufacturing. The organization places a strong emphasis on workforce training and pipeline development.

“Every company we talk with says that their number one problem is finding enough skilled and capable employees to run their operations,” ICAMS Director and Forehand/Accenture Distinguished Professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering Greg Harris said. “The lack of skilled employees capable of operating with new technologies is one of the main inhibitors to the adoption of technologies by small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs). To be the most competitive manufacturing country, we must develop our workforce into the most capable in the world.

The center's focus areas span various advanced manufacturing techniques, including multi-axis machining, additive manufacturing, electrical discharge machining and water jet cutting. Specialized areas such as friction stir welding, industrial automation and cybersecurity in manufacturing systems further illustrate the breadth of expertise available. 

ICAMS also emphasizes digital factories, focusing on Industry 4.0 and model-based system engineering.

ICAMS offers numerous benefits to industry partners, including upskill training in various advanced manufacturing concepts, prototyping new parts and optimizing current machinery. The center's capabilities in developing digital factory processes, conducting comprehensive metrology assessments and researching cybersecurity help protect manufacturing assets and processes from potential threats.

“ICAMS wants to be industry’s trusted third party,” Harris said. “We do not try to sell anything. We are here to answer questions, show technology capabilities and help companies figure out the best option.”

ICAMS helps companies be more profitable and ensure their survival in a competitive landscape. As more companies adopt smart manufacturing technologies, the benefits become evident — smoother data exchange, improved operational efficiencies and better forecasting and planning.

The ICAMS facility is a 20,000-square-foot space shared between two buildings. This environment, equipped with current-generation and legacy manufacturing equipment, provides a hands-on learning space that showcases Industry 4.0 capabilities.

The Digital Manufacturing Demonstration Cell's automated system produces 3D solid models from visitor scans. These models are then machined and validated against reference designs. Regular tours and workshops further disseminate knowledge and showcase the potential of advanced manufacturing.

ICAMS collaborates with industries to analyze problems and develop solutions, helping small and medium manufacturers adopt Industry 4.0 technologies. The center also fosters partnerships with other academic institutions and community colleges, supporting collaborative research and broadening the impact of its initiatives.

“The future of manufacturing includes self-aware machines and processes that use data to inform decisions and communicate that information to optimize operations,” Harris said. “Industry 4.0 is all about connectivity, data and analytics, automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and digitalization to make the manufacturer the most competitive that they can be.”

ICAMS's training programs meet the specific needs of industry partners, focusing on enhancing performance, productivity and profitability. The center works closely with companies to design custom training plans, ensuring employees are well-equipped to handle advanced manufacturing technologies.

By conducting annual surveys and collaborating with industry partners, the center identifies the main inhibitors that keep SMMs from adopting the technologies needed for future manufacturing and produces the first longitudinal study of technology adoption by SMMs. This interdisciplinary approach involves partnerships with professional organizations and industry leaders, resulting in state-of-the-art academic research programs.

Promoting careers in advanced manufacturing is another key aspect of ICAMS' mission. Initiatives like Project MFG and the Bird Inc. program engage students and create interest in manufacturing careers, while educational partnerships with institutions like Southern Union State Community College provide valuable certification programs.

Harris said manufacturing is where value is created and manufactures take ideas and raw materials and turn them into products that people desire and buy. Additionally, he said innovation takes place where the work is done — the manufacturing process.

“It is critically important that we present careers in manufacturing as the place where value is created for the next generation. Because if we don’t, we risk losing our manufacturing competitive edge,” he said. “The U.S. industrial base is the foundation of our freedom. A strong industrial base is necessary to ensure our freedom.”

Media Contact: Dustin Duncan , dzd0065@auburn.edu, 334-844-2326
a man presses a button on a machine

A student employee at Auburn University's Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems (ICAMS) works a machine at the ICAMS research facility.

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