Mahoning Valley is epicenter of new era in manufacturing

To appreciate the significance of Youngstown State University’s receiving a gift of $440 million worth of computer software related to America’s next industrial revolution — additive manufacturing — consider the following story of a miracle made possible by science and technology.

Kaiba Gionfriddo of Youngstown was born with a birth defect that caused his airway to collapse, resulting in his breathing, and often his heart, to stop.

Doctors in Michigan who had been researching artificial airway splints had not implanted one in a patient. Until Kaiba.

In a single day, the doctors “manufactured” 100 tiny tubes using computer-guided lasers (in a 3-D printer) to stack and fuse thin layers of plastic, instead of paper and ink, to form various shapes and sizes. The next day, with special permission from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, they implanted one of the tubes in the baby boy from Youngstown, the first time such a procedure was undertaken.

He hasn’t had a single breathing crisis since coming home a year ago. The tracheotomy tube put in when he was a few months old is about to removed.

3-D printers are being used to create three-dimensional objects for use in all sorts of everyday endeavors. But it is in medicine that the miraculous is becoming the status quo. A human-shaped ear has been created by Cornell University researchers using a 3-D printer (along with injections of a special collagen gel), while a San Jose company is making customized, transparent braces.

Thus, when Helmuth Ludwig, the chief executive officer of Siemens Industry Sector in North America, said in Youngstown recently, “It’s not your grandparents’ or your parents’ manufacturing,” he was offering important insight into the wondrous world of additive manufacturing.

Adding to what Ludwig said was Eric Spiegel, president and CEO of Siemens Corp. and a native of the Mahoning Valley, with this observation: The next industrial revolution in the United States is going to center on additive manufacturing, and Youngstown State University and the new National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute will help drive it.

The two high-ranking executives of Siemens Corp. announced at YSU on May 30 that Siemens was giving a $440 million in-kind grant to the university’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics College.

The grant represents the value of the state-of-the-art product lifecycle management (PLM) software and training.

By any measure, the gift is a huge deal because it makes YSU and NAMII, located in downtown Youngstown, major players in the new frontier of manufacturing.

And the fact that Siemens Corp. is involved puts the Mahoning Valley on the world stage.

Siemens Corp. is a U.S. subsidiary of Siemens AG, a global powerhouse in electronics and electrical engineering. The U.S. subsidiary operates in sectors of industry, energy, health-care and infrastructure and cities. For some 165 years, Siemens has built a reputation for leading-edge innovation and quality products, services and solutions, according to the company’s website.

With 370,000 employees in 190 countries, Siemens reported worldwide revenue of approximately $102 billion in fiscal 2012. Siemens in the U.S. reported revenue of $22 billion and employs approximately 60,000 throughout all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

The PLM software — used by NASA, Ford, Nissan, Calloway and Lockheed Martin — will help educate students and prepare them for careers from robotics design to computer-aided engineering and additive manufacturing, across many industries.

Skills gap

Siemens CEO Speigel says there’s a skills gap between the jobs available and the ability of individuals who hope to fill them.

“It’s imperative that companies like Siemens and universities like Youngstown State and governments play a role in closing that training gap,” Speigel said.

Dr. Martin Abraham, dean of YSU’s STEM College and one of the forces behind the creation of NAMII, said the software from Siemens will enable students to learn the latest technology.

“Companies will now be coming to YSU to recruit our students, looking for them,” Abraham said during the announcement of the grant. “Today, YSU becomes a global leader in engineering education.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-13th, who long advocated the creation of a technology belt running from Pittsburgh to Youngstown to Cleveland, wasn’t exaggerating when he said the Valley is leading the next industrial revolution, with advanced manufacturing at its core.

NAMII already has brought national and international attention to this region. The Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation included the institute in its Top 10 lists of most innovative economic-development initiatives across the country.

The $70 million project is a consortium of nine research universities, five community colleges, companies and 11 nonprofit organizations in the Tech Belt.

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