Manufacturing the Economic Transformation of a Region
There’s something happening here in Central Florida. And, like the old song says, “What it is ain’t exactly clear.” But the transformative impact it’s positioned to have on industry worldwide and the economy of the region is undeniable and incredibly exciting.
It’s been in the news across the state and around the country. It’s a Kissimmee, Osceola story. It’s a regional Central Florida and a statewide Florida story. It’s a national and worldwide technology story. It’s about ICAMR – The International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research. And it is the way inspiration and high technology research gets connected to practical industry and manufacturing. It is the story of the Internet of Things (IoT) and how that concept will change how humans do everything they do.
It’s easy to dismiss this statement as hyperbole, but the truth is technological development is hitting a point of critical mass and it is not at all excessive to say evolving sensor technology – and the advanced manufacturing capabilities turning that technology into everyday use – will fundamentally transform the way humans interact with every aspect of the world in the next several years. Think about that. Every aspect.
Sensors are those tiny technological devices that allow you to interact naturally with things like the touch screen on your phone or tablet. From self-driving cars, to buildings that optimize their environments automatically based on the position of the sun, to injectable devices that monitor heart rate, blood chemistry, temperature and more to smart parking, smart traffic management, smart waste management, smart roads and cities; the capability of applying smart sensors to human living is already transforming the world we live in and the way we live in it. The technology in development now is on track to be a disruptive force in virtually every industry value chain that delivers a product or service to anyone, anywhere.
We recently caught ICAMR CEO Chester Kennedy, former vice president and chief engineer for training and solutions at Lockheed Martin, quite literally on his way to the airport to attend a roundtable discussion on the state of the microelectronics industry at the White House. It’s not his first foray into the world of public interest and public policy, but it’s a necessary one as the speed of change in the sensors industry, he said, is fast approaching a tipping point.
“Advanced smart sensors are going to fundamentally change everything we do in our lives in the next five to seven years,” Kennedy said. “And we are at the center of it all with a new facility coming online. We can make Central Florida a hub for all of that.”
But What Is ICAMR, Anyway?
ICAMR is the bridge that spans high-technology with university and industry-related research to businesses so they can take practical advantage of that technology.
“Industry only wants to pay for what they can market today,” Kennedy explains. “Universities on the other hand, are often times doing advanced research that may not quite be ready for prime time.”
Historically, academic research in university labs develops ideas in a silo. They often test the bounds of theory and technology without any real concern for how it might be used in a practical application down the road. Industry, on the other hand, has a different approach. Businesses that leverage technology have a need to advance that technology to develop and deliver products and services to their customers. They also have a mandate to be profitable at executing those products and services.
This is where ICAMR enters: the public-private partnership is dedicated to connecting what they refer to as “the valley of death” between those two missions; the academic and theoretical on one side, and the practical, business, for-profits on the other. The new advanced materials manufacturing development center they are building in Kissimmee will be the conduit to those two needs in a very practical way.
ICAMR is structured in a not-for-profit model where their funding comes from industry and government sources to provide research and development expertise that helps solve the challenges facing the industry in transitioning basic research conducted at university into a product for commercial markets.
“It’s about having a competent, skilled design team on hand to support industry on demand,” Kennedy explains. “If somebody comes in with a 3 x 5 card that says we need a chip that does x, y, z, we can do that.”
But perhaps more importantly, ICAMR is structured to assist with connecting industry partners, who may not be direct competitors – but may be facing the same technology challenges – to collaborate in solving those challenges and advancing the industry as a whole.
“It enables them to move at a faster pace and move on,” Kennedy says. “To find solutions to common, core problems that people in industry will face and avoid sitting there without a solution for a long time.”
ICAMR provides a platform to solve challenges related to manufacturing of advanced technology devices. For member businesses who will use the Osceola facility, ICAMR may produce only one wafer designed for a specific purpose. Typically, the devices we’re describing are manufactured on a silicon wafer that might hold 6,000 devices, all manufactured simultaneously. A design team may only need one wafer to develop their product. Currently, a mass production facility will only take orders in 10,000-wafer increments. The cost for that kind of production is exceedingly high and the scale is entirely wrong for a company just building a prototype, or running a test run, or introducing a new product to market.
ICAMR’s design center will connect companies developing these technologies and transforming the world with the advanced manufacturing solutions to make their ideas come to life.
“If you give people access to this type of manufacturing, that’s going to fuel a lot of innovation and get products to market quicker,” Kennedy said.
On the other hand, he said “if you come through our process and you hit a home run, and then you need a million devices, you’re going to take that recipe that we developed for you and use it in a mass manufacturing environment.”
Why here? What’s the Economic Attraction to Osceola?
An historically agrarian area of the state known most recently as the home base of many Walt Disney World employees, the most obvious question Kennedy gets is “why here?” Why look to build a high-technology advanced manufacturing facility out in the middle of the old Judge Farm property?
For Kennedy, it’s a one-word answer: jobs.
“Our measure of success is enabling for-profit businesses to create large numbers of jobs in the region,” he says, simply.
The 501(c)6 not-for-profit organization is structured around the concept of membership. Industry and university members pay annual dues to belong to the institute and, as a benefit of membership, get access to the development center capabilities. Combined with access to sensor and photonics expertise at the University of Central Florida, proximity to the rest of the state university system, local and regional access to known industry hotbeds in aerospace, defense, medical research and simulation industries in the region, not to mention easy access of the location to the transportation hub of Orlando International Airport, ICAMR in Kissimmee presents a unique opportunity in both technology and economic growth.
“Our objective is to have for-profit businesses make money off of our infrastructure,” Kennedy says. “That’s how they create jobs. I don’t want businesses to be shy about the fact that they’re trying to make money on the technology.”
While ICAMR itself is expected to account for just more than 100 high-paying, high-technology jobs ($82,000/year or more), as the consortium attracts industry members and partners to the area such as current member Melbourne-based Harris Corporation, the impact on high tech jobs is expected to number between 10,000 and 20,000 with a multiplier effect of up to 80,000 or more total jobs across the region.
Osceola County has been helpful to the effort, identifying 500 areas of county land (the FARM research park) that could be used to develop high tech, for-profit facilities close to the new ICAMR facility. The projected economic and geographical impact is expected to match or even exceed, the cluster effect seen in Medical City in Lake Nona.
“I can see kids in middle school in Osceola County who can’t wait to go to college, get an engineering degree and get excited about what’s going on at the FARM,” Kennedy says. “Right now for so many of them, the concept of success is far away. If we can infuse that with a high-tech presence, we can expose the population to new horizons.”
Slated to open in Spring 2017, the building is nothing short of a minor engineering marvel: a 109,00 sq. ft. state-of-the art clean room manufacturing development center where scientists will devise tiny chips and wafers to hold smart sensors. To prevent vibrations that can disturb the highly precise work in the upstairs laboratory, the foundation is anchored 40 feet into the ground
The 2nd Internet Revolution
By 2020, more than 50 billion devices will be connected by sensors. IoT will connect people to technology and transform the way we do everything in our lives. The first Internet revolution, ushered in by the development of the worldwide web, was an information revolution. It changed the way people know and learn about things.
The second Internet revolution, which is at the early stages of transforming our everyday lives, is one of data and connectivity. It’s transforming the way people interact with the world around them and the way things are capable of interacting with other things. In Osceola, ICAMR is uniquely poised to identify Central Florida as a global advanced manufacturing hub powered by smart sensor technology that will play a significant role in the way the entire world develops into the coming decades.