A small company has a manufacturing problem that it cannot solve because it lacks the in-house resources. Then company officials learn they have easy access to world-class manufacturing and applied research and development facilities that can help them stay in business. This valuable resource is the Oak Ridge Centers for Manufacturing Technology (ORCMT). ORCMT offers the expertise of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) three Oak Ridge sites managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Systems, Inc.--the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the Oak Ridge K-25 Site.

Many of ORCMT's facilities were originally developed for manufacturing components of nuclear weapons. Now, these technologies for defense are being adapted into technologies to help make American industries more competitive in the world marketplace while maintaining national security capabilities.

ORCMT's business is to help business with manufacturing, which is a key to America's economic health. Here's an example of one of its many successes.

Newton A. Solomon owns a small business in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, that makes circuit board prototypes, specializing in fast turnaround of small orders for companies developing new products. Inspection of the boards showed a high failure rate because they were getting burned in the plating process. These failures were costing Solomon's company money and potential business. He needed a quick and cost-effective solution to his manufacturing problem. He got that solution--and immediate results in product improvement--by calling ORCMT at the Y-12 Plant.

Solomon was pleased with the help he received. In a letter of appreciation to the ORCMT staff he wrote, "This is the first time in my more than 30 years in business that a large company has been so helpful to me--a small, minority businessperson."

Newton Solomon's company is just one example of the hundreds of companies that have solved manufacturing problems through interaction with ORCMT. Whether the problem is preventing corrosion of steel plates for electric griddles, certifying a measurement reference master used in building a next-generation space telescope, or developing a way to make cloth faster and cheaper, ORCMT staff mambers can meet the challenge.

Hybrid Organization

"ORCMT combines the research and development capabilities of ORNL with the unique manufacturing technologies of the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant and the pollution-prevention research and waste management capabilities at the Oak Ridge K-25 Site to assist American industry," says ORCMT director Dave Beck. "We bridge the gap between ideas and products and between the laboratory and the factory floor. We like to say we solve tough manufacturing problems--and we do. I believe there are very few research or manufacturing problems that someone here at Oak Ridge cannot solve."

The centers--more than 20 in all--are organized through a matrix structure into seven core technology areas, such as manufacturing technology development.

Each center concentrates on a specific technical area, such as coatings and finishing, and may well perform work at several locations linked as a "virtual center." Staffs for the centers are composed of personnel from various Y-12 Plant organizations, several ORNL divisions (including Engineering Technology , Instrumentation and Controls, and Metals and Ceramics), and Central Engineering Services.

Maintain Expertise

ORCMT's efforts form a customer-driven, nationally recognized industrial resource center for manufacturing technology. ORCMT had at least part of its genesis in the National Competitiveness Technology Transfer Act of 1989. This law encouraged DOE's defense facilities to seek out and work with the private sector. President George Bush's 1992 announcement that the United States would not build any new nuclear weapons, the end of the Cold War, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union brought an abrupt change in the mission of the Oak Ridge Y-12 Plant. Quickly it shifted from weapons production to weapons dismantlement and storage of the nation's enriched uranium stockpile. The end of the Cold War also continues to drive--at increasing speed--a national effort to use defense technologies to enhance the nation's industrial competitiveness while maintaining its capability to support the defense mission.

When it was producing nuclear weapons components during the Cold War, the Y-12 Plant acquired, or developed in-house, some of the most precise machining, process control, and inspection tools in the world. The plant's job was to turn the design ideas of the country's weapons design labs into shop-floor reality. Its staff manufactured items to levels of precision virtually unmatched in either the public or the private sector, and the 500th part produced had to be precisely the same as the first part to ensure the reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile. ORNL, on the other hand, since its days of producing plutonium for the Manhattan Project, has built an international reputation as a multiprogram laboratory. It is known for its expertise in basic and applied research, isotope production, energy production and conservation, physical and life sciences, technology transfer, and education.

For the taxpayer, ORCMT offers an opportunity to realize a return on 50 years of Cold War investment in defense and energy technologies at DOE's laboratories. Now, the expertise across a broad spectrum of scientific and technological disciplines is available to solve manufacturing problems; create new materials, products, and processes; foster technological innovation; reduce or prevent pollution; and help create high-quality jobs for Americans. Harnessing such expertise is part of DOE's strategic plan to dramatically improve American industrial competitiveness in the world marketplace.

Manufacturing--Key to Economic Growth

Although manufacturing has been shrinking over the past 20 years, it is an enormously important part of the U.S. economy. In 1991 and 1992, the most recent years for which statistics are available, manufacturing accounted for about 18.5% of our real gross domestic product. Although manufacturing is still a mainstay of the economy, production processes are changing. Because of these changes, ORCMT fits well into the manufacturing mosaic.

"People say our economy is changing from a manufacturing economy to a service economy," says Dave Beck. "We don't believe that's true. There is a need for the United States to maintain a strong capability in manufacturing. There is a lot of foreign competition, especially from Germany, France, and Japan, where the companies get a lot of help from their government. This country has a growing need for the government to help the private sector. Manufacturing jobs are high-paying jobs. Manufacturing is the backbone for the whole country."

One way that American business can compete in a world where people will work for incredibly low wages is by increasing the efficiency of manufacturing through use of technology. "Unfortunately," says Carl Leitten of the Manufacturing Technology Section of ORNL's Engineering Technology Division (ETD)," much of American industry's capability for manufacturing technology development has minimized their costs for testing and evaluating new products or manufacturing techniques."

Jack Cook, co-director of ORCMT from ORNL's Engineering and Manufacturing Directorate, says, "The combination of manufacturing capability, technology, and applied research and development is the most valuable asset in the centers, perhaps a unique combination in the country. The umbrella of the centers covers a lot of manufacturing territory. We can develop and test a new coating to make a product last longer or we can help a mom-and-pop shop solve a problem that threatens to put them out of business."

Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary's Performance Agreement with the President includes DOE goals that call for "a more productive and competitive economy." Two goals are to "improve industrial competitiveness" and "promote economic growth and the creation of high-wage jobs through access to technical information and research and development partnerships with industry."

Reaching Out

ORCMT helps achieve these goals by aiding its business customers through direct assistance, partnerships, cooperative research and development agreements (CRADAs), user facilities access, and work for others.

Direct assistance transfers know-how on using technology better, more efficiently, or in a unique application.

Direct assistance is a hands-on approach. If problems can't be solved through telephone calls or fax transmittals, Oak Ridge technical experts actually go to company sites to analyze problems and suggest solutions. The funding is limited to a total of $5000 per company request. DOE's Defense Programs National Machine Tool Partnership (NMTP) works in much the same way, except it can provide up to 10 days of technical help to any U.S. machine tool manufacturer or user.

Since it was officially created in September 1993, ORCMT's industrial outreach has generated some impressive statistics. Through the second quarter of fiscal 1995, the centers had assisted more than 1600 businesses nationwide. Industries requesting technical assistance include automotive part production, food product manufacturing, ceramic manufacturing and machining, materials testing and evaluation, and precision measurement. The private-sector impact of this assistance is estimated at more than $150 million--a 400% (4:1) return on investment. It is estimated that between 1994 and 1998, the centers will stimulate over $1 billion of private-sector benefits and create 25,000 high-quality jobs

While the direct assistance programs and the NMTP allow ORCMT to send its expertise out to businesses, the Deployment/User Facility Program permits businesses and educational institutions to come to ORCMT and use facilities and equipment they might not otherwise be able to access. Feedback on the Deployment/User Facility Program rates the program as excellent. The user facilities, which have been open since August 1993, have entered into 30 user agreements, including 18 with educational institutions, 5 with large businesses, and 7 with small businesses, involving entities in 10 states. Educational institutions can use the centers free if the work will provide economic benefit to small business.

ORCMT staff also have been involved in 87 CRADAs with a value totaling $135.7 million (both DOE and partner contributions) and in Work for Others agreements in which work is performed for specific companies on a reimbursable basis.

Filling Gaps in Training

ORCMT's Manufacturing Skills Campus and the Skills Demonstration Center provide training opportunities for clients ranging from high school and post-secondary vocational school students to professional technicians, designers, and craftspeople. The center provides both classroom instruction and hands-on experience with a wide range of machine tools and testing equipment.

Created to maintain essential manufacturing skills, retrain workers affected by defense program cuts, and transfer skills to local industrial firms to increase their competitiveness, the Skills Campus has served more than 1500 students, including more than 500 from private industry or schools in the region. Projections are for the program to increase private-sector involvement as the program matures, providing training in both manufacturing and maintenance skills. Classes cover subjects ranging from computer numerically-controlled machining to personal computer maintenance and troubleshooting to protecting the environment by proper refrigerant management. The Skills Campus also has prepared a series of highly successful classes that have been broadcast to remote sites by satellite.

Coy Gibson, director of the Tennessee Technology Center at Jacksboro, is involved with a program at the Skills Demonstration Center where local workers are being trained as tool and die makers. The training offered in this field fills a gap in East Tennessee, where no postsecondary tool-and-die programs are offered. Jacksboro's Tennessee Technology Center, which provides vocational and technical training, saw local industry's growing need for tool and die making and began preparing to fill that need. The Technology Center, however, did not have several pieces of high-tech equipment that would enable it to offer a state-of-the-art program.

"We could deliver 85% of what we needed for the program at the center, but we did not have those machines," Gibson says. As a result of the Jacksboro experience, the Skills Campus has recently initiated a user agreement with the Knoxville Tennessee Technology Center to provide a tool-and-die training program for Knoxville similar to the program offered for the Jacksboro campus.

Another highly visible and highly successful technology training tool is the Mobile Manufacturing Learning Center, which was developed for the state of Tennessee. This facility provides students at Tennessee high schools with a hands-on opportunity in advanced manufacturing technologies. It offers computer-integrated manufacturing devices including robots, milling machinery, a conveyor, a computer, and computer-integrated manufacturing software, all operating on a local computer network in the center.

Strategic Alliances

ORCMT has formed strategic alliances with federal and state agencies to better serve industry. One such alliance with the Department of Commerce's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) resulted in the creation of a NIST-accredited metrology program at Oak Ridge. This agreement allows ORCMT to offer a precision measurement service that previously had been available only from laboratories in Germany. The service is now offered to domestic automobile, aircraft, and farm equipment manufacturers, among others.

Under this agreement, the Dimensional Metrology Laboratory can calibrate end standards and step gauges up to 1.35 meters long to a certified accuracy of 0.7 micrometer per meter (or about one one-hundredth of the diameter of a human hair). Manufacturers use these standards as in-house references to verify the accuracy of their own measurement machines, such as those used to inspect the dimensions of finished parts and assemblies of parts. In fact, the Metrology Center recently completed a contract to certify eight reference masters used in the production of optical elements for the Advanced X-Ray Astrophysics Facility--the next generation space telescope. The service combines NIST's measurement expertise and the Y-12 Plant's advanced technological capabilities, including a high-precision, large-volume coordinate measuring machine, the most accurate machine in its class. The mammoth machine is housed in a room in which the temperature can be controlled to within 0.01 degrees C. The accuracies of the measurements performed at the ORCMT are certified by NIST, the nation's primary measurement and standards laboratory. The ORCMT laboratory recently received the first U.S. accreditation for dimensional metrology under the National Voluntary Laboratory Accreditation Program.

In partnership with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Gear Manufacturers Association, and Penn State University, NIST and ORCMT are developing a national Gear Metrology Center in Oak Ridge to provide advanced measurement services critical to the manufacture and quality assurance of precision gears.

To illustrate the impact of ORCMT on national competitiveness, gears in German-made helicopters last longer than those in U.S.-made aircraft because the gears are more precise and therefore mesh better. At the Gear Metrology Center, precision measurements will be made on gear masters (or standards). Companies using the center will be able to measure their gears against the gear masters characterized in Oak Ridge to ensure precision and the best possible meshing to lengthen gear life.

NIST experts perform hands-on work in the center, providing extensive engineering support for its calibrations. ORCMT houses the center and provides experience in complex geometry measurement, precision measurement, and associated equipment. Technical staff also address other aspects of gear manufacturing and measurement, including materials testing, nondestructive evaluation, and benchmarking.

The centers provide direct technology assistance through agreements with the Tennessee Valley Authority, the University of Tennessee for Industrial Services, the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, and the Southeast Manufacturing Technology Center. This partnership network increases ORCMT's availability as a technology resource for industry in the areas served by the partners.

Areas of ORNL Involvement

ORNL researchers are closely involved with five high-profile ORCMT programs--advanced ceramics, textiles, composites manufacturing, coatings and finishings, and diagnostics. Organizational lines are blurred, with some project managers located at ORNL for work being done at the Y-12 Plant, center managers on loan from several divisions, and technical support and equipment coming from all three sites. Here is a brief look at each of these programs.

Structural Ceramics

To reduce our nation's dependence on imported oil and cut emissions from vehicles, highly efficient piston and gas turbine engines are being developed. Because they must be run at high temperatures to use fuel most efficiently and emit little pollution, valves and other components of these engines will be made from structural ceramics such as silicon nitride. These ceramics, unlike metal, do not melt or corrode at such high temperatures.

Use of these ceramics is limited by two obstacles: the difficulty of making low-cost ceramic powders and the high cost of machining these hard materials accurately to the critical dimensions required to shape them into engine parts. These problems are being addressed through the DOE-supported Cost-Effective Machining of Ceramics (CEMOC) program.

Ceramics are difficult to machine--the materials are nearly as hard as the diamonds used to grind them. Currently, engine components formed from structural ceramics cost far more than designers can accept. Reducing the cost depends heavily on advances in the nation's machine tool industry. The CEMOC program aims at helping the industry develop improved tools to machine ceramics at lower costs.

The CEMOC program includes CRADAs, subcontracts with industry on ceramic manufacturing in the Ceramic Technology Project, and user projects at ORNL's High Temperature Materials Laboratory (HTML).

Subcontracts have been set up with many companies for demonstrating specific high-accuracy ceramic component manufacturing technology. Other companies are working with Oak Ridge staff to develop better grinding wheels and evaluation instruments.

Numerous projects conducted by industrial users at the HTML concern high-accuracy instrumented ceramic grinding, dimensional analysis, and surface metrology. Industrial firms are also employing tools in the six HTML user centers to characterize candidate materials for their products.

Arvid Pasto, HTML director, cited the creation of the Ceramic Manufacturability Center at ORNL as a model for other types of cross-organizational teams for the future. The center contains state-of-the-art machine tools for use by teams of researchers from industry, ORNL, and the Y-12 Plant. They are working together to determine better ways to grind structural ceramics rapidly and accurately. This center complements the other six HTML user centers, allowing its users to rapidly and fully characterize their machined materials.

Fred Jones, an Energy Systems Corporate Fellow and Core Manager for Industry Specific Technology, commenting on the working relationship that has developed through CEMOC, says, "The terrifically unique thing about these ceramic projects at Oak Ridge is that they bring together the incredibly strong materials science expertise of ORNL research, the world-class equipment at the High Temperature Materials Laboratory, and the Y-12 Plant staff's unique experience in manufacturing. Those three elements make it go. What is significant is that we are establishing an integrated set of capabilities for manufacturing structural ceramics."

"We don't have this great delineation of us or them," says Bill Barkman, manager of the Ceramic Manufacturability Center. "We view it as an Oak Ridge program. We tap whatever resources are appropriate. We've looked at the whole organization and pulled out the resources that could do the best job for the industrial partner."


Textile manufacturing occupies a very large sector of the U.S. economy. The $219 billion textile industry employs 12% of the manufacturing work force and consumes about 6% of the nation's energy. And, like other sectors in the manufacturing economy, textiles have undergone dramatic changes in recent years because of pressure from off-shore manufacturers. The AMTEX program is an agreement between DOE and the textile industry to apply the specific skills of the national laboratories to improve all aspects of textiles--from raw material use to retail sales.

Oak Ridge is participating in three AMTEX projects: Computer-Aided Fabric Evaluation (CAFE), Demand-Activated Manufacturing Architecture (DAMA), and Textile Resource Conservation (TReC). The CAFE laboratory project manager is Glenn Allgood of ORNL's Instrumentation and Controls Division. ORCMT researchers are most closely involved with the CAFE project.

"What we are doing here is building a partnership that supports textile industry needs," Allgood says. "Specifically, we provide a central point for developing and testing new concepts that could lead to rapid development, deployment, and prototyping of new textile technologies. We have created a textile center to test those technologies and to help show industry what ORCMT can do for the textile manufacturers."

Fabric woven from spun yarn and filament on looms may develop defects during the weaving process. After a production run, workers feel and look at cloth in search of defects. If defects are found, the off-quality cloth is discarded. Correcting this inefficiency to reduce financial losses is one of AMTEX's goals.

One purpose of the CAFE project is to develop an on-line inspection system that would detect defects as they occur and remove the bad cloth from the production run to reduce manufacturing waste. Allgood has led the development of an on-loom greige-inspection system that combines optical sensors and machine diagnostics with computers. Greige (French for gray) is unbleached, undyed raw fabric. The system can detect and map structural defects. Information is passed along by computer to the next production step, such as cutting. This information is also fed back to the process to remediate the cause of the defects. The data also provide the basis for process control.

The CAFE project is also developing a system for inspecting color-printed pattern goods. Smart optical sensors are used to ensure that colored patterns on cloth are true and in register. A prototype system now being tested at textile firms can "learn" a complicated pattern in the first part of a roll and then inspect the remainder.

Another goal of the project is to develop a system for inspecting knitted fabrics and three-dimensional fabrics such as terry cloth and carpeting. Besides ORNL, DOE facilities involved in the CAFE project are Argonne, Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia National Laboratories.

"The basics of weaving have not changed dramatically, but the process has," Allgood says. "The textile industry now is trying to change it. It's one of the few industries in the United States that has developed a plan for competing in the world market. The textile industry is dedicated to seeing that this endeavor is successful."

In this program, ORCMT provides a transition between the laboratory and factory environments, where machines must cope with lint, vibration, heat, humidity, noise, and production schedule demands. The result should be better quality products made at lower cost, with less waste and energy consumption, thus creating more American jobs.

Coatings and Finishing Center

Because of competition from foreign companies, U.S. firms are under increasing pressure to manufacture parts that last longer under trying conditions. Rather than redesigning parts to be made of advanced materials, it is often more cost effective to design coatings for current parts that will give the parts the desired functional surfaces. Coatings can be designed to protect parts from abrasion, corrosion, and high temperatures as well as to make the parts "self-lubricating." As an example, aluminum pistons can be coated to help them better resist corrosion and deterioration brought on by high temperatures.

ORCMT's Coating and Finishing Manufacturing Technology Development Center develops and validates environmentally benign, advanced integrated coating manufacturing processes, products, and capabilities. Its equipment applies coatings through various processes--plasma spray, high-velocity oxygen fuel (HVOF) spray, electric wire arc jet, oxygen-acetylene flame spray, and ion sputtering. These processes are often integrated with robotics and computer controls as well as contained in regulated environments, enabling tight control of process parameters and accurately reproducible experiments.

Because of these capabilities, the Coatings and Finishing Center is a primary source of solutions to problems in materials deposition and manufacturing process development. The center experiments with the following materials: metals, alloys, ceramics, cermets (metal alloy composites), composites, intermetallics, polymers, and compounds. Companies from virtually every industry have approached the center for assistance in developing coatings or coating processes for their products. The center provides coating manufacturing test beds that enable development and hands-on validation of integrated coating processes and new coating materials, according to center director Keith Kahl.

"Industry knows how to manufacture parts inexpensively from materials such as aluminum and steel, but these parts may not last very long because of their lack of resistance to wear, erosion, or corrosion," Kahl says. "The center helps companies find coatings that will enhance the performance of parts for specific uses. For example, thermal barrier coatings are used in jet engines to retain heat to increase fuel efficiencies. The turbine blades used in Navy airplanes and seagoing vessels are coated to prevent salt and sulfur corrosion. Typically, there are 500 coated parts in each jet aircraft engine and more than 100 coated parts in each automobile. We've begun to see that almost every industry--every industrial sector in the world--can use coatings to enhance their product performance."

The center is involved in various projects with the government and private industry. Some examples include development of

In addition to being accessible to outside companies and agencies, "the door is open for anybody in the Oak Ridge complex to work in the center, use its tools, or bring problems to us that we can help them solve," Kahl says. "We've had people from all three plants here. The door is open for interaction, and I see it happening."


High-performance composite materials have a direct impact on daily life in the United States. They are found in automobiles, airplanes, baseball bats, orthopedic devices, tennis racquets, and submarines. New composites are, quite literally, everywhere. Researchers at ORCMT's Composite Manufacturing Technology Center have 30 years of experience in energy, space, and defense programs.

Now, the Oak Ridge composites team is working in partnerships with U.S. industrial firms to develop commercial uses for these advanced engineering materials. Through the Composites Center, U.S. industry gains access to the expertise and manufacturing test facilities needed to maintain competitiveness in the use of composite materials. The center has comprehensive capabilities for the development, evaluation, and demonstration of affordable advanced composite materials and structures.

Composite research at Oak Ridge has led to significant breakthroughs in development of materials for flywheel energy storage systems, processing technology for thick-wall structures, and the design and manufacture of large composite structures that can withstand very high compressive loads. Current investigations include innovative processing methods such as electron beam and microwave curing.

"Traditionally," says center manager John Shaffer, "the composites business outside of DOE has been fueled by aerospace and defense, but that market is declining with shrinking defense budgets. Now we are trying to find ways to bring composites technology into the commercial marketplace."

Some specific applications that the composites team helped develop are


A couple of decades ago, ORNL developed techniques for diagnosing problems in nuclear reactor operation by spotting abnormalities in noise signatures. A similar technique was developed at ORNL to detect hints of abnormal operations in electric motors. This expertise is now being called upon at ORCMT's Advanced Diagnostic Center, which includes personnel from both ORNL and the Y-12 Plant. Expertise in optical diagnostics, electrical signature analysis, vibration monitoring, chaos theory, neural networks, and other diagnostic techniques are used to address a wide range of industrial needs. The center is working with numerous companies to help improve their operations and products. Applications include condition monitoring of electrical machinery, diagnostics for advanced development of automotive and aircraft engines, predictive maintenance of industrial plant equipment, and improved techniques for disease diagnosis.

Experts in optical diagnostics at ORCMT are studying the potential of using phosphor thermometry as a metrological standard. This method provides an absolute measurement of a material's surface temperature using the fluorescence signatures of certain chemically stable phosphors on the material. An optical material, elastic silicone rubber optical fiber, has been developed at ORNL for weighing vehicles as they roll over high-precision sensing plates placed on roads. This weigh-in-motion measurement technique is expected to play an important role in traffic monitoring and control, truck weighing, and vehicle identification.


In conclusion, the Oak Ridge complex has a combination of capabilities and facilities unmatched anywhere in the country or even in the world. These resources have been used to help meet the challenges of producing and conserving energy, protecting the environment, and providing for the nation's defense. Now, these resources are being used to meet another important challenge--increasing the nation's industrial competitiveness. Today, Oak Ridge is bridging basic and applied scientific research with manufacturing technology and experience to benefit U.S. industry while maintaining and enhancing DOE capabilities. ORCMT's motto is "We Solve Tough Manufacturing Problems"--Call 1-800-356-4USA.

Bill Wilburn is a staff member of Energy Systems' Office of Public Affairs.

Where to?

[ Next article | Search | Mail | Contents | Review Home Page | ORNL Home Page ]