High-tech future has Valley view

The Siemens Corp.’s donation of $440 million worth of high-tech software to Youngstown State University is the latest in a series of developments elevating the research and development aspect of the Mahoning Valley’s economy.

”This powerful and immense software … places YSU at the global forefront of both industry and academia and makes students more prepared, more capable, more marketable for their careers,” YSU President Cynthia Anderson said during the Siemens announcement last week.

This latest announcement comes as the world adjusts to 3-D printing, the hub of which is based in the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, or NAMII, in downtown Youngstown. To Star Trek fans, 3-D printers are known as replicators, a fantasized technology that began in the Gene Roddenberry creation ”The Next Generation.”

Now, a San Jose company called Invisalign uses 3-D printing to make each mouthful of customized, transparent braces. A Santa Cruz, Calif., company called Mackenzies Chocolates uses a 3-D printer to pump out chocolate molds. Cornell University researchers used a 3-D printer to create a human-shaped ear.

”A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the-art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything,” President Barack Obama said, referring to the NAMII headquarters on Boardman Street, during his State of the Union address.

One day soon, airplane mechanics could print a replacement part on the runway. A dishwasher repairman could make a new gasket in his service truck. A surgeon could print a knee implant custom-designed to fit a patient’s body. Even the tools to install them can be made on the spot.

”We’re on the verge of the next industrial revolution, no doubt about it,” said Dartmouth College business professor Richard D’Aveni. ”In 25 years, entire industries are going to disappear. Countries relying on mass manufacturing are going to find themselves with no revenues and no jobs.”

In that scenario, the Mahoning Valley’s manufacturing-based economy finds itself in jeopardy. That makes NAMII and the Siemens announcement so important for our future.

The state-of-the-art software from Siemens uses computers to manage products from the idea stage through disposal and all phases – design, manufacture and marketing – in between. NASA used it to develop its Mars rover Curiosity. Calloway used it to design golf clubs. Space X, an exploration company, used it to develop a rocket and space capsule.

Now YSU students will use it to prepare for careers in robotics design, computer-aided engineering and additive manufacturing. It will help them enter the fields of aerospace, automotive design, defense, energy, high-tech electronics, machinery and oil and gas.

Hopefully, the Valley stays near the front of this industrial revolution.