Innovation Destination: Hartford recently spoke with Don Balducci, Director of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology, Inc. (CCAT) Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC) and Karen Jarmon, CCAT’s Communications Director, about how the AMC provides resources for manufacturing and innovation.
IDH: Tell us about the AMC.
BALDUCCI: State of the art, leading-edge things are happening everywhere and are going to be into the future. The AMC was established to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers insert advanced technology into their operations.
We started with aerospace and defense companies and now we are working with almost all of the manufacturing base in the state of Connecticut and beyond.
The AMC has resources for prototyping with additive manufacturing using plastics and metals. The machining software that we have is off-the-shelf, but some of the manufacturers either can’t afford to buy it or don’t have the time to review and implement, so they’ll come to us and we will help them with their projects and their processes.
IDH: How long has the AMC been in operation?
BALDUCCI: The AMC was a part of CCAT when it originally started 10 years ago. The center has evolved. We were focused heavily on lasers initially. Today, we have the additive machines for plastics and metals, five-axis machining capabilities and Swiss screw machine capabilities.
We are going to be doing composite machining. We’re looking at hybrid machining. White light noncontact scanning for reverse engineering and part inspection is big because in most industries you’ll see that some of the production hold up in processing is the final inspection, especially if they are critical parts. The noncontact inspection speeds things up. It can also generate a report for a component part.
The AMC has a five-year contract with the U.S. Air Force working on aerospace alloys. We’ll be doing factory materials and ceramic matrix composites (CMCs). These are the things that are coming.
We also do business assessments. We go out to small- and medium-sized manufacturers and look at their technical capability and their business. We examine their Lean capability, their product maturity and lifecycle, and their digital manufacturing technology.
IDH: It sounds like a very beneficial resource.
BALDUCCI: Some companies take advantage of it. It kind of comes in spurts. For example, this week I will be conducting three assessments. The assessments include reviewing just about all aspects of the business and manufacturing processes.
IDH: Tell us a little more about your role and what you do.
BALDUCCI: I manage the facility here and I do most of the outreach. I’ll go out to companies and explain the resources the AMC can offer and encourage them to utilize us.
My comfort level is there because I was CEO of several companies, so I understand what companies are going through. Sometimes they get somebody coming in who doesn’t understand the day-to-day work. I’m sensitive to that. When I visit companies, I’m able to explain what our capabilities are and how we can help them. I know that it works and I know the technology and the things that we do here from a personal level because when I was running a business I used CCAT to implement some of my company’s processes and technologies.
IDH: In what ways is the AMC helping startups and entrepreneurs?
JARMON: The state has funding that supports manufacturing innovation. The AMC has a manufacturing technology innovation program, so there’s funding support to help entrepreneurs—if it’s innovation-related there is funding to support that.
BALDUCCI: That’s right. We have different programs for startups. The AMC can help them with the broader spectrum. Then we have programs such as the Connecticut Manufacturing Innovation Fund Voucher Program for ongoing small-and medium-sized manufacturers.
IDH: Speaking of programs can we talk about the internships a little bit?
BALDUCCI: We typically have four to five interns. These are students that are frequently from the University of Connecticut, the University of Hartford, Central Connecticut State College and Manchester Community College. Sometimes they are from other states. Right now we have one intern from Springfield Technical Community College in Massachusetts. Our interns come in two days a week for a few hours. We try to gear the project so that it doesn’t interrupt their schoolwork and it will help them.
IDH: What do you enjoy most about your work here?
BALDUCCI: I just love working in the manufacturing environment. Being able to come to a manufacturer and being able to help them solve a problem is very rewarding. Having the abilities and the resources here to be able to do that is rewarding because I’ve been on the other side of the street.
The AMC is able to take the problem out of the facility: Come here and solve it, and then go back with a tailored solution that can be integrated into a customer’s production process.
JARMON: And we assist with implementing it in their facility. Manufacturers don’t have to shut down the production lines because we do all of that tweaking and testing here.
BALDUCCI: Right. And for the 3-D printing materials we’re able to do things that they wouldn’t be able to do. We can make a prototype.
IDH: How do you feel the AMC is enhancing innovation in Connecticut?
BALDUCCI: I feel that the AMC is supporting it. Many people don’t realize that the AMC is supporting a lot of other innovation across manufacturing sectors from aerospace and defense to biomedical to consumer product development. We’re also supporting the universities, so we are really a hub. We’re here to be able to support the growth of innovation with the companies.
We have the hardware and expertise here to be able to produce and try many things and numerous iterations of designs, too. And we’re willing to take some risks trying those things.
JARMON: And prototyping is a big part of that.
But what I think is unique about the AMC is we are a resource with everything in one facility. It’s rare that you can go to an outside company if you are a manufacturer and you want to work on a prototype or you’re not sure your production is working and you need help to improve that—you can come here and you get it all. That really makes us unique.
There’s no other place like us that I’m aware of in the region where everything is under one roof as a resource for manufacturers. And we have an applications focus, we are “real world” focused versus the university environment, which is more theoretical.
Once you design something you’ve got to make it work in production, and that’s what we bring to the picture: How do you take that great innovative idea you have and put it into real world production?
BALDUCCI: And if we don’t have the resources here and we can’t do it we know who to go to. We can help cut to the chase with the situation. We have resources and contacts. Everyone who works here has real-world experience. We understand what needs to be done.