Advanced manufacturing partnership in Atlanta

Stephen Cross, adjunct professor and Georgia Tech executive vice president for research


Stephen Cross, adjunct professor and Georgia Tech executive vice president for research, speaks at the opening of the Boeing Manufacturing Development Center on June 22.

Georgia Tech Photo

Transitional applied research at Georgia Tech

Chris Marince knows that being able to transition an idea from the lab to a commercial prototype is a crucial skill for engineers.

“We have experience integrating research into production settings and we’re excited to be able to help the next generation of engineers learn how,” said Marince, a Boeing assembly and automation engineer.

Marince and fellow Boeing engineer Joshua Johnson work side-by-side with Georgia Tech students and faculty at the new Boeing Manufacturing Development Center (BMDC).

Located within the Delta Advanced Manufacturing Pilot Facility on the Georgia Tech campus, the BMDC is an experimental research partnership between Boeing and    the university. It explores and develops the nontraditional use of automation in industrial applications, as well as determines the viability of practical applications that could lead to production system and manufacturing processes at later technology readiness levels (TRL).

Collaboration between industrial technology companies and research institutions in the early-stage development of potentially disruptive technologies could lay the crucial foundation for advancement.

The first technological area that researchers are working on at the center relates to utilizing industrial robotics for new automated precision machining and fabrication applications.

For example, articulated robotic arms are often used in the automotive manufacturing world with pick-and-place, as well as joining applications. However, as Johnson explains, aerospace manufacturing hasn’t been able to take advantage of these technologies, both because the scale is larger and because the robots are not accurate enough for aerospace tolerance requirements, which are typically higher for cars.

“To give you context, most of our parts have tolerances of five-thousandths of an inch,” he explained. “And a human hair is about three thousandths of an inch.”

This collaboration at the center also provides the students a meaningful applied research opportunity that helps them obtain valuable experience and might even become the topic of a thesis or dissertation.

Georgia Tech has been collaborating with Boeing on research for a decade, with ongoing research topics that include manufacturing flow, robotic assembly, model-based manufacturing and sustainable manufacturing. Research partnerships like this also diversify the company’s research portfolio and increase its robust talent pipeline.

“Working together with Boeing engineers, this research allows our students and faculty to mature low TRL research to higher TRL and actually transition them into technologies that could be applied on the factory floor by Boeing,” said Shreyes Melkote, professor of mechanical engineering at Georgia Tech. “Very few schools can claim to have that capability.”

By Janelle Bernales and Will Wilson, Boeing writers