Greater Baltimore Manufacturing is Leading Through Transformative Tech
Manufacturing has moved into the national spotlight as an industry that must be supported as a growth sector with employment opportunities at all skill levels providing middle-income salaries at an entry level and beyond. The view that domestic manufacturing is a growth sector has been magnified due to the global disruption resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic and the continuing supply chain challenges that will impact product development and distribution for months to come.
The diversification of a manufacturer’s supply chain and their ability to increase product development and processes domestically will not only increase jobs but also build the resilience needed to manage future global disruptions whether caused by disease, unrest or weather. The need for resiliency that more and more companies are focusing on, including domestic production that will create more jobs, is also increasing the application of technology to designing, producing and distributing product more efficiently and faster, resulting in cost savings and speed to market that consumers now demand.
Manufacturing is also a growth industry in the Greater Baltimore region and has been highlighted in an EAGB Industry Profile and past newsletters, with an increasing focus on the technology transforming the industry. This article will briefly discuss two transformative technologies and shine a spotlight on how three of the Region’s manufacturers are applying them as a central component of how they do business.
Materials science focuses on the relationship between the atomic and molecular structure of a material, the properties of the material (such as strength, electrical conductivity or optical properties), and ways in which the material is manufactured or processed into a shape or product. By applying this knowledge of the interplay between the structure of materials and how they are produced, the performance of the product can be improved, significantly reducing the risk of failure of a new product or process.
Materials science has long been the realm of physicists, chemists and engineers, but material scientists are now working directly with manufacturers to develop processes that produce materials and components on an accelerated schedule, at reduced cost, and sometimes with properties impossible to obtain with traditional manufacturing techniques. Examples of the application of advanced materials resulting from the work of materials scientists and engineers include the design and manufacture of products such as safer cars with better gas mileage, faster computers with larger hard drive capacities, smaller electronics, threat-detecting sensors, renewable energy harvesting devices and better-performing medical devices.
Lion Brothers Company provides a great example of how long-established manufacturers are applying materials science and digital manufacturing technologies to designing and producing products. Located in Baltimore County since 1899, Lion Brothers is a leading designer and manufacturer of apparel brand identity systems for a broad range of clients ranging from professional and collegiate sports teams to global apparel brands.
Today, Lion is a company focused on integrating creative design with scientific and technological advancements to create new innovations for their clients’ apparel brands, with an R&D team dedicated to discovering the next generation of product and process innovations. These innovations are also helping to address supply chain issues and add a level of resiliency that help the company weather unexpected disruptions in off-shore manufacturing, such as the global pandemic caused by COVID-19.
For example, the company’s R&D team - including material scientists and engineers - have created an automated apparel identity production platform that will allow for “last mile” customization of apparel so that decorative insignias and embellishments are applied domestically at the end of the production cycle and closest to retail demand. As CEO Suzy Ganz describes it, by applying material science they have created a “material sandwich” using advanced adhesives that replace legacy screen print processes. Lion’s heat-applied apparel identity solutions enable apparel brands to customize product on-demand. Traditionally, legacy processes and global supply chains required customization to be performed offshore. Lion’s new platform allows apparel brands to meet demand while reducing unnecessary inventories and financial retail markdowns.
An example of a company with material science at the core of its business model is W. L. Gore & Associates, a global materials science company dedicated to transforming industries and improving lives by using proprietary technologies to create products for medical implants, fabric laminates, and cable, filtration, sealant, membrane, venting and fiber technologies for diverse industries.
Established in 1957 and with approximately 3,000 associates in Cecil County, Gore is the county’s largest private sector employer. The company develops products and technologies of high societal value that address complex challenges in a variety of markets and industries, including life sciences, oil and gas, aerospace, automotive, apparel and textiles, mobile electronics and more.
Gore is currently using advancements and innovation in the area of data science which includes Machine Learning-Artificial Intelligence (ML-AI) to accelerate new product development. For example, Gore associates are using data science to identify materials with specific properties and attributes within seconds - resulting in the rapid discovery and prototyping of new products. Using data science is also having a positive impact in decreasing manufacturing redundancies, meaning less waste and energy consumption and greater manufacturing efficiencies.
Another technology that has been transforming manufacturing by producing materials with new structural, thermal, electrical, chemical, and photonic properties is additive manufacturing (AM). Sometimes referred to as 3D printing, AM uses successive layers of material (polymers, metals, and ceramics) to precisely fabricate 3D objects.
This technology has revolutionized the design-build cycle, allowing a product designer to produce a prototype in a few hours, evaluate its viability for the ultimate use and, if necessary, make changes in the design or materials used to improve performance. Finished and validated components can be produced in weeks or a few months instead of a year or years by using conventional manufacturing approaches.
With an eye to the growing role of AM in manufacturing, the Maryland General Assembly created the Regional Additive Manufacturing Partnership (RAMP MD) in 2014. RAMP MD is a consortium of private businesses, educational institutions, governmental agencies, and representatives of U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) that are working together to expand Maryland’s capabilities in additive manufacturing. The U.S. Army is a significant partner, extending their agreement with RAMP MD to 2023 to provide 3D printing resources to organizations wanting to adopt AM technologies.
Through partnerships with RAMP MD, industry has access to equipment and capabilities that many businesses could not otherwise afford, enabling them to move a product from idea to production without incurring large capital expenditures.
Harbor Designs and Manufacturing, established in Baltimore City in 2008, has incorporated additive manufacturing into its business model, greatly expanding its ability to customize their design and manufacturing services. Harbor has transformed traditional contract and supply chain management through a unique approach based on partnerships and sharing of resources, particularly their state-of-the-art 3D printers. The company has designed products for a wide array of clients and industries including medical devices, consumer products, transportation innovations, and defense and industrial solutions. They have been able to expand their contract manufacturing services to clients who do not need their design services but need or want to outsource the manufacturing process.
Their ability to forge partnerships and their innovative approach to resource sharing enables Harbor to assist start-up and emerging companies in applying advanced technologies such as additive manufacturing in developing prototypes without investing in capital-intensive equipment. A partnership with Baltimore City government and the U.S. Dept. of Commerce Minority Business Development Agency, and another with the U.S. Veterans Health Administration, facilitates the company’s goals of expanding manufacturing capabilities in the City. Harbor has opened its doors, literally, inviting these and other partnerships to utilize their space as they work on advancing their ideas.
With “best-in-class” additive manufacturing equipment in place, Harbor offers easily accessible and more immediate service for creating prototypes designed by researchers and other professionals than was previously possible, streamlining product development and the production ramp up process. In addition to providing turn key product development and high volume production solutions for its partners like the U.S. Veterans’ Administration (VHA), Harbor is also working to streamline and insulate the VHA’s procurement process with domestic manufacturing capacity in its own back yard which will result in greater efficiency and better patient outcomes. Such a manufacturing resource insulates not only the VHA hospital system, but the entire Greater Baltimore region against future supply chain disruptions beyond those that have been experienced in the COVID-19 pandemic.