John Belding: Facilitating the Future of Maine Manufacturing

Black Bear alumni, faculty, staff, and students are among Maine’s most productive innovators and entrepreneurs. In this month’s column, we hear from John Belding ‘96, director of UMaine’s Advanced Manufacturing Center (AMC), an engineering support and research center specializing in precision manufacturing. Over the past several years, the AMC has completed a series of major equipment upgrades designed to enhance capabilities to support industry partners and develop workforce, as well as accelerate the adoption of additive metal manufacturing in Maine. Belding shares the latest on how the AMC is putting this new technology to work for Maine’s manufacturing sector. 

John Belding: “The Advanced Manufacturing Center is really an applied outreach center. We function as an economic development engine based at the university, an extension of UMaine’s Office of Innovation and Economic Development and College of Engineering, that brings new technology and new manufacturing abilities to Maine.

“These days, we’re very focused on this concept of Industry 4.0, which hinges on interconnectivity and smart automation. Over the past three years, we’ve invested $2.5 million in new equipment, everything from metal 3D printing to robotics, and on top of that we’re part of an EPSCoR grant to study artificial intelligence in advanced manufacturing, which will allow us to create the Northeast Integrated Intelligent Manufacturing Lab (NIIM) at UMaine in collaboration with several regional partners. 

“There are two important parts to our work. First is simply having the latest technology at our facility that companies can test, try, and learn about. Second is that learning – for industry partners and for students. We’re setting up a series of training modules that industry can utilize to train their current staff in small bite-sized pieces on these newer technologies. We’re also training students who work in the center and are building their skills on this state-of-the-art equipment. Those things go hand-in-hand – we help companies get comfortable with the technology, and then we supply the talent that will help them incorporate it into their manufacturing environments with confidence.

“By having these technologies here at UMaine, we significantly lower the barrier to entry for industry. Companies can say ‘We would like to come try a five-axis machining operation, or laser-directed energy deposition, or an automation or a robot,’ and we can help them see the whole picture of what it would mean to incorporate that technology into their operations, from cost drivers to training needs. It’s a critically important service for Maine’s manufacturing sector and one we’d like to see all companies take advantage of. We love helping Maine businesses solve problems and explore new frontiers.”

NOTE: The “Innovators of UMaine” series is supported by a grant to the Alumni Association from the Maine Technology Institute.