Case Western Reserve, partners launch Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center at Sears think[box]

Nick Barendt in blue shirt with arms folded across chest
Nick Barendt

Funded by U.S. Department of Energy, the center aims to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers adopt transformative technologies

Case Western Reserve University and several partners are launching a new center focused on helping small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) adopt “smart manufacturing” technologies.

The new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Center (SMIC), one of four in the country, officially opens today (March 30). The university developed the center in partnership with CESMII, the United States’ national institute on Smart Manufacturing, and received support from the U.S. Department of Energy and other key partners.

“Northeast Ohio small- and medium-sized manufacturers can now quickly become more competitive by accessing the national expertise, tools, and training we and our partners can offer,” said Nick Barendt, the new center’s director and executive director of the Institute for Smart, Secure and Connected Systems (ISSACS) at Case Western Reserve. “This is another step in a process in making smart manufacturing available to thousands of them.”

Smart manufacturing is a broad term for a technology-driven approach that uses internet and information technologies to connect people, processes, and machinery to monitor production, automate operations and use data analytics for more efficient and safe manufacturing.

The center’s work will occur throughout Northeast Ohio–in manufacturing sites, at several partner organizations and on the Case Western Reserve campus.

The CWRU site will be The Lubrizol Foundation and Kent H. Smith and Kelvin Smith Fabrication Floor of the Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think[box], Case Western Reserve’s innovative 50,000-square foot, seven-story makerspace.

Center will offer smart equipment training

Barendt said the center will  add two pieces of equipment in the summer or fall that will demonstrate the value of smart manufacturing: a Lincoln Electric-donated arc welder and a computer numerically controlled (CNC) mill. The equipment will only be available to manufacturers in the region who sign up to use it, Barendt said.

“Both can substantially improve on the kind of work being done,” he said. “Many fabricators fit in the ‘high-mix, low-volume’ manufacturing category of arc welding applications, for example, and the data analysis we can share from how an arc weld can be performed with more precision can vastly improve their product quality and productivity.”

A CNC mill uses computerized controls and rotating cutting tools to gradually remove metal from a workpiece, producing complicated, precision parts.

Collaboration is key

The opening of the new center is the latest step in a collaborative effort to revolutionize Northeast Ohio manufacturing—a process that included the creation of a Manufacturing Blueprint for Northeast Ohio in 2021.

Team NEO’s Smart Manufacturing Cluster will lead the engagement and smart manufacturing assessment efforts of the SMIC. Team NEO is a business development organization focused on accelerating economic growth and job creation throughout the 18 counties of Northeast Ohio. It will be working with Bennit AI, a Cleveland-based company building artificial intelligence solutions for manufacturing.

Other partners include Advanced Manufacturing International (AMI), part of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) and Lincoln Electric.

Jay Foran, senior vice president, industry and innovation at Team NEO, said that the institute’s investment in the center “is a welcome acknowledgment of the region’s progress and potential.”

MAGNET is a nonprofit organization that assists small- and medium-manufacturing companies in the greater Cleveland area. It is part of the state’s node of the Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), part of a federal public-private program to support smart manufacturing implementations around the country.

“Small and medium-sized manufacturers make up the backbone of the Northeast Ohio manufacturing sector and they are reliant on external support to adopt smart technologies,” said MAGNET CEO Ethan Karp. “Using the Blueprint as a guide, we are able to help these manufacturers make necessary changes and achieve tangible results toward becoming a global leader in smart manufacturing.”  

The Cleveland SMIC also brings together Case Western Reserve faculty, including Kenneth Loparo,professor in the Department of Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering and faculty director of ISSACS; James McGuffin-Cawley, professor of materials science and engineering and faculty director of Sears think[box]; and the IoT Collaborative, a partnership between Case Western Reserve and Cleveland State University focused on the Industrial Internet of Things—supported by The Cleveland Foundation. Barendt is also co-executive director of the IOTC.

*The text for this article was reproduced in its entirety from the March 30, 2022 edition of CWRU's The Daily. For additional information, please contact Mike Scott at