With the ever-evolving, ever-growing world of welding holding steady on the success of new technology and workforce capabilities, Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow’s (LIFT) mission is to help champion and bring on-the-verge technologies into the marketplace. It does so with projects that align education, government and commercial markets.
According to the organization’s charter, LIFT brings together public and private sectors in a collaborative manner to work to advance development in manufacturing, specifically within lightweight metals for late-stage developmental and manufacturing implementation in the manufacturing base. Standing at the helm of LIFT is its executive director, Larry Brown.
Brown, a former shop floor welding engineer, is helping LIFT to execute several projects across a series of practice areas, or thrust areas as LIFT refers to them. Anchoring its joining practice is a project that focuses on the distortion mitigation of high-stress steel plates, primarily in the building of naval ships.
LIFT’s first welding project builds on previous work that explored how to best combat high rates of buckling distortion on thin steel structures, specifically in U.S. Navy construction. The original study found that the standard shipyard practice of fabricating stiffened steel panels by arc welding was the major contributing factor of the distortion. Even though it could be corrected, the process to do it was time consuming and often degraded the quality of the ship’s structure.
The initial project started in 2002 with funding from the U.S. Navy to Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (now Huntington Ingalls Industries). Through its collaborative research works, Northrop Grumman was able to develop distortion control techniques, such as reverse arching, transient thermal tensioning (TTT), stiffener assembly sequencing and other preferred techniques to reduce distortion and eliminate the high rework costs associated with correcting distortion.
Recognizing a need to further collaborate on research efforts, specifically with regard to fine tuning the TTT process, Northrop Grumman teamed up with Edison Welding Institute (EWI), Battelle Memorial Institute and the University of New Orleans for a Navy project that would further refine the TTT process for complex, lightweight ship structures.
According to Brown, LIFT’s current welding project sets out to build upon and provide additional solutions to the initiatives that started in 2002 and includes some of the original participants, as well. For LIFT, assembling the right players for each project is key to its success, but the process starts long before the participants are chosen.
The bigger picture
Prior to assembling teams to meet the needs of each of its projects, LIFT’s technical committee culls together proposals and ideas from a variety of different education, government and commercial resources. A major objective of LIFT is to invest its time and dollars into projects that can be utilized across a variety of different industries.
Along with his practical knowledge of welding, Brown has spent time in research and development on advanced aircraft engines and has managed large scale projects to serve the Department of Defense. In Brown’s experience, he’s found that many technical solutions are brought to the market without consideration for how usable they will be within and outside of the market.
“It’s not just about development of a product, but making sure it has a place in the marketplace and won’t just sit on a shelf,” Brown says. “There needs to be an applicable component for all the projects we work on.”
LIFT pays special attention to the makeup of its committee to ensure that each project proposal is reviewed from a variety of different vantage points, making it easier to decide which ventures will have the most impact across a variety of industries. Currently, 100 organizational members make up a cross section of OEMs, subject matter experts, academic partners, research institutions and workforce intermediators.
“The diverse membership makeup helps LIFT to look at the entire ecosystem,” Brown says. “[We’re] always looking for new members and try not to focus on one industry so we don’t get myopic. We don’t want to cater to one industry sector.”
In addition to ensuring that there is an applicable component of each of its projects, LIFT also looks to make sure that there is a workforce ready and available to invest in the new products.
“You can’t create great tech if you don’t have a workforce that can use it,” Brown adds. “If you create tech without the workforce, it’s doomed to fail.”
Dedication to education
As an organization that survives by creating innovative, tech-based solutions, LIFT recognizes the responsibility it holds to help educate the current and future workforce on how to properly utilize what it creates. According to Brown, LIFT invests in manufacturing equipment that can be used for training within its Detroit-based headquarters so that the space is innovative and educational. Brown also notes the larger issue that LIFT needs to help combat.
“We need to help young kids formulate thoughts on what manufacturing is all about and dismiss the stigma that it is dirty, dumb and dangerous,” he says.
By looking at what Brown calls ‘K to Grey,’ LIFT aims to address the preconceived notions of what working in manufacturing is all about by engaging with kids at a much earlier age and continuing to educate them on the high-tech aspects of the industry. Along with helping to break down the stereotypes earlier on, the organization is looking at ways to impact future engineers by making them aware of what’s available and by helping to enhance college curriculum.
“We’re not just doing applied development, but we are a learning lab where students can get their hands on equipment to get an appreciation and understanding,” Brown says.
With the first joining project off the ground, LIFT continues to look at additional welding-centric initiatives to help enhance the efficiency of the industry and directly address some of the major challenges it currently faces. LIFT is looking at projects that focus on linear friction welding and adhesive bonding applications, but a key area of interest for the organization is addressing project topics that aim to resolve the issue of joining dissimilar materials.
“How do we join metal with composites – that’s not traditional, not the arcs and sparks,” Brown says.