The Interdisciplinary Center for Advanced Manufacturing Systems (ICAMS) at Auburn University is an emerging resource for small and medium-sized manufacturers in the southeastern United States. Established in 2020, ICAMS provides the equipment, space, and expertise to train and educate students and industry personnel in advanced manufacturing technologies. The center aims to reduce barriers to adopting advanced manufacturing systems, including Industry 4.0 technologies, among small and medium manufacturing operations.
Part of the ICAMS mission is to serve as a prototyping facility for researchers, startup companies and established manufacturers. The facility is in the process of establishing itself as a service center. Previously, it primarily took on at-will projects from local industries, serving as a goodwill initiative to establish its presence and reputation within the community, state, and Auburn University.
One of the Center’s main objectives is to generate enough revenue to support a full-time staff, allocate resources for equipment maintenance, and ensure a sustainable workflow without any government subsidies. ICAMS collaborates closely with professors and researchers, particularly in physics and other engineering departments, providing access to industrial-grade equipment. This capability, paired with their affordable rates, makes ICAMS a unique and valuable resource for researchers. The center is also a critical partner with the city of Auburn and local technical schools, providing industry training and retraining for the local workforce and industrial development boards..
However, the continued operation of ICAMS depends on securing adequate funding, as it currently relies on grants. Their team is laser-focused on building a solid foundation to ensure its long-term viability. “We want to ensure long-term success for ICAMS, and that starts with creating a vision for sustainable growth over the next 10, 20, or even 30 years,” said Scott Neff, Research Engineer III at ICAMS. Scott and the other research staff members conduct research at ICAMS on a broad range of topics, from digital production integration, metal 3D printing, milling dynamics, friction stir welding, and collecting data for small-to-medium production runs.
Scott and his team are passionate about pursuing ICAMS’s mission of supporting local manufacturers and advancing the industry forward. But that mission was at risk for a few reasons:
- Quoting parts distracted team from other elements of ICAMS’s mission. Quoting parts was eating into so much of their team’s time that could have been more productive focusing on other ICAMS objectives such as actual production, education and research.
- Wasted time. ICAMS’s estimators were spending the majority of their day building out quotes, which, when lost, rendered that time wasted (time they could have spent pursuing mission-oriented activities). Potential customers were impatient for quick estimates, causing some lost customers and impacting repeat customers.
- Difficulty in handling one-offs or prototypes. Without standardization or consistency in their quoting process, one-off jobs were difficult to estimate. Since 90% of all work to date is prototyping various “one-offs,” the problem was greatly magnified.
- Lack of centralized data. Since the team was using Excel spreadsheets, emails, and phone calls for communication, information was getting lost and estimators were recreating work that was already done.
- A need to teach the next generation. The team is designing new manufacturing courses constantly and wanted a piece of software that could “frame” the process of teaching art of quoting in engineering economics and other classes including business innovation.
As Scott summed it up: “We couldn’t make an apples-to-apples comparison. We would use a combination of our CAM package, Fusion360, or another program, depending on which machine we would plan to use. It would take us an entire day to generate a quote for complex parts. Then, after committing all that time, we sometimes wouldn’t even get the job. We were hemorrhaging time which always equates to money.”
ICAMS needed a solution to streamline its operations, improve efficiency, and reduce time and financial waste. Failing to do so could potentially put the program’s long-term sustainability at risk.
ICAMS’s commitment to Industry 4.0 principles drove their decision to invest in Paperless Parts. “We knew integrating Paperless Parts into our workflow would allow us to achieve a clean, smooth flow of data, helping to create a full digital loop in our manufacturing processes,” reflects Scott. It would also serve as a foundation around which to teach the next generation of engineers the principles of estimating.
“With just one afternoon of training, we had an undergrad ready to use the platform efficiently. I remember ending the training and him saying, ‘That’s it?’ We can now better prepare students for their future roles in manufacturing, giving them a hands-on experience that aligns with real-world industry practices.”
As a result of the efficiency the platform helps drive, Scott and his team can now generate quotes that previously took them an entire day in 15-30 minutes. Many of the parts ICAMS quotes are complex, multi-axis pieces. “On average, those quotes took us 1-2 days to get through,” reflects Scott. “Now that they only take us 15-30 minutes, we’re talking about gaining a research engineer’s entire day back, per quote.”
By saving time on quoting, ICAMS can allocate resources to more organizational goals and stakeholder commitments, like open houses, educational demonstrations, research projects, grant-related initiatives, and their all-important education mission.
The streamlined workflow and user-friendliness of Paperless Parts help ICAMS simplify training, enabling their team to quickly onboard undergraduate students who are investigating careers in manufacturing. “With just one afternoon of training, we had an undergrad ready to use the platform efficiently,” recalls Scott. “I remember ending the training and him saying, ‘That’s it?’ This made us realize the potential we now have to incorporate Paperless Parts into our curriculum. We can now better prepare students for their future roles in manufacturing, giving them a hands-on experience that aligns with real-world industry practices.”
Investing in Paperless Parts has proven to be a strategic move for ICAMS to achieve its goal of adopting Industry 4.0 practices, optimizing operations, maximizing throughput, educating future engineers while investing in the future of the Center.
All in all, with the help of Paperless Parts, ICAMS is realizing business results that help the Center inch closer and closer to their long-term goals:
- Empowering the newest generation of manufacturers. Paperless Parts will help ICAMS demonstrate how to efficiently and accurately quote parts, provide hands-on experience, and allow for a wider variety of career-advancing opportunities.
- Contributing to reshoring efforts. “Our mission extends beyond our own interests or the confines of Auburn University,” Scott says. “We are actively collaborating with organizations like the Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment and the Department of Defense in the southeast to promote manufacturing regionally and contribute to reshoring efforts. In partnering with Paperless Parts, we aim to demystify advanced manufacturing concepts and make them more accessible to our local industry partners.”
- Expanding its customer base. The time-savings and bandwidth Paperless Parts has added for ICAMS have been pivotal in the weeks leading up to their formal grand opening on October 27th, where they opened their doors to the entire local community. “We introduced our service center, underscoring the importance of sustaining throughput, and showcased our commitment to shaping the future of manufacturing in the Southeast.”
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“Our investment in Paperless Parts was driven by a strong belief in the future of manufacturing. The industry is rapidly evolving towards greater intelligence, with machines communicating and data being collected at an unprecedented scale. We firmly believe that manufacturers who cling to pen-and-paper methods or rely on Excel sheets to manage their operations are giving up a tremendous technical advantage.”