Missouri S&T consortium wins grant to modernize state’s defense manufacturing

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On January 31, 2024

Attendees at Missouri S&T’s open house in October got an up-close look at some of the digital advanced manufacturing technologies the university believes will help Missouri manufacturers remain globally competitive. Photo by Michael Pierce, Missouri S&T.

Using technology to strengthen the global competitiveness of Missouri manufacturers while supporting the defense industry is one of the primary goals of a three-year project recently awarded $5 million by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation.

The grant establishes the Missouri Defense Manufacturing Consortium, a partnership of colleges and universities, companies, and manufacturing organizations led by Missouri S&T. Other consortium members include Lockheed Martin, a large manufacturer with a defense equipment division; Caterpillar, a heavy equipment manufacturer; America Makes, a public-private partnership for additive manufacturing technology and education; the Missouri Association of Manufacturers; and Ozarks Technical Community College.

“In order for Missouri to remain globally competitive in manufacturing, we must modernize the technology used by our state’s manufacturers,” says Dr. Richard Billo, director of the Kummer Center for Advanced Manufacturing at Missouri S&T, who also oversees the Missouri Protoplex and is the lead researcher for the consortium. The Protoplex will serve as an organizational and physical hub for advanced manufacturing when it opens in 2025.

The consortium will provide training and education to at least 200 Missouri manufacturers to increase the number of engineers and tradespeople skilled in digital advanced manufacturing technologies as they are applied to two traditional methods of manufacturing: Casting, a process during which metal is heated until it’s molten, and then poured into a die, or mold, and forging, which uses automated or manually applied compression to reshape metal that’s been heated to the stage of being plastic.

Although popular, both methods are difficult for producing small quantities of parts quickly and at a low cost. These attributes are important for companies to competitively produce replacement parts for older equipment. By providing training on new and emerging technologies, the consortium plans to lessen the severe shortage of workers skilled in using advanced manufacturing technologies to repair, remanufacture and replace castings and forgings for the defense industry.

The consortium also hopes to combat what many see as the erosion of U.S. leadership in casting and forging manufacturing.

“At the same time, if Missouri is to remain a top state for manufacturing, we must prepare a workforce that’s highly skilled in the technology that is already transforming the industry,” Billo says.

Specifically, the technical training and education offered by the Missouri Defense Manufacturing Consortium will be complemented by outreach activities provided by a team that includes OTC’s Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing, the America Makes Manufacturing USA Institute and Missouri S&T’s Kummer Center for STEM Education to at least 5,000 K-12 students in more than 50 underserved counties across Missouri.

“We want to show our youth, from age 9 up to high school seniors, that they can have a great future with careers in Missouri manufacturing,” says Billo.

Billo says the consortium’s goals are a direct response to the concerns shared by the hundreds of small manufacturers and the equipment manufacturers they support. Billo has met with many small, mid-size and large companies since joining S&T in early 2022, and they’ve all expressed the need for more engineers and tradespeople with skills and interests in manufacturing.

About Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System, Missouri S&T offers over 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities for salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu

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