Hybrid autonomous manufacturing moving closer toward reality

Posted: November 3, 2022
Michael Groeber
ISE Prof. Groeber

ISE Associate Professor Mike Groeber, along with a team of faculty at Ohio State, imagines a future where a surgeon can design a cutting guide or implant they need during a surgery and it is simultaneously manufactured on demand right there in the operating room. 

This point-of-care manufacturing scenario is not too far beyond the realm of possibilities thanks to a National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center grant awarded to establish Hybrid Autonomous Manufacturing, From Evolution to Revolution (HAMMER). 

The initiative not only brings together different institutions – Northwestern University, Case Western Reserve University, University of Tennessee at Knoxville and North Carolina AT&T University – but also different academic departments at the schools. 

Ohio State is serving as the lead investigator, but Groeber says each university will have its own manufacturing innovation learning lab (MILL), which includes Ohio State's Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME) on Kinnear Road. 

Groeber says it’s all part of a manufacturing vision at Ohio State to bring together materials and processes with novel sensing and artificial intelligence while keeping humans in the loop. 

“We wanted to bring Materials (Engineering), Statistics, ISE and Computer Science together to tackle really hard and novel processes where autonomous systems can make manufacturing decisions and act on them,” he says. “Inherently, it’s a systems problem. Many of the things we need to make these systems work lives in ISE.” 

Groeber credits Materials Science and Engineering Professor Glenn Daehn for his work in championing the effort for the past several years. The five-year grant is not a traditional NSF award but is a public-private partnership designed to “deliver technology to the community where it needs to be applied,” Groeber says. It is anticipated that the grant will be renewable for an additional five years. “The goal is to be self-sustaining at the end” with industry taking over the support, he notes. 

Groeber is working with ISE Assistant Professor Samantha Krening, who will focus on the AI and human interaction side. “I get to apply AI to different systems,” she says. “It’s something real and tangible. Part of what I’m interested in is you have really highly technical, capable people. How can we create AI they can work with? How can we really make this work? This is the type of project that really can’t happen just anywhere. There’s amazing research and manufacturing here at Ohio State.”  

Students from different disciplines will be able to participate in the project. “Most students will be co-advised with advisors from other departments and advisors at other schools,” Groeber says. “These really are challenging and integrated problems.” 

Groeber says it helps to envision the automotive autonomy timeline to understand the function and cognitive side of autonomous manufacturing – first there were drivers, then cruise control, then lane change and park assist, moving towards vehicles being driven automatically. He says the capability of adding AI allows the closed loop systems to be monitored. “There are going to be humans in the loop for a long time,” he says. “We need better sensors and analytics. The most important components can’t fail. Human lives are on the line if they do fail. We have to build trust in autonomous systems making these components if we are going to move away from locked-down processing specifications. It’s a complete fundamental change in how we do business in manufacturing.” 


Story by Nancy Richison

Category: Faculty