*About IACMI-The Composites Institute: The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), managed by the Collaborative Composite Solutions Corporation (CCS), is a partnership of industry, universities, national laboratories, and federal, state and local governments working together to benefit the nation’s energy and economic security by sharing existing resources and co-investing to accelerate innovative research and development in the advanced composites field. CCS is a not-for-profit organization established by The University of Tennessee Research Foundation. The national Manufacturing USA institute is supported by a $70 million commitment from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and over $180 million committed from IACMI’s partners. Find out more at IACMI.org.
Teknovation Biz Article by Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA
We’ve known John Hopkins for well over two decades, maybe longer.
The first interaction that we recall with the long-time University of Tennessee (UT) staff member occurred when he was a key lieutenant at the UT Space Institute (UTSI) in Tullahoma. Hopkins’ official title was Research Associate Professor, but it was clear that he was the “go to” special projects person on whom then UTSI Vice President Dwayne McCay most relied.
When the latter moved to Knoxville in 2000 to become UT’s Vice President for Research, McCay soon brought Hopkins with him to continue as his trusted lieutenant. Over the years, even as changes occurred in the UT system administration, Hopkins fine-tuned his credentials that are best characterized by a well-used baseball title – utility infielder. He was very willing and, more important, very able to play whatever position was needed at the time.
Last September, Hopkins stepped into possibly his most challenging role yet as Interim Chief Executive Officer of the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, better known as IACMI (click here for that announcement). One of the national manufacturing hubs, IACMI is operated by Collaborative Composite Solutions Corporation, a subsidiary of the UT Research Foundation (UTRF).
And, just a few weeks ago, the interim word was removed from Hopkins’ title.
“For almost 20 years, Dr. Hopkins and I have had the opportunity to work together on multiple University of Tennessee initiatives ranging from small business projects to multi-year, multi-million dollar national research initiatives such as IACMI-The Composites Institute,” Stacey Patterson, UT Vice President for Research, Outreach and Economic Development, said. “He has earned a reputation as an insightful and trusted partner with an inclusive, strategic leadership style that inspires his team and maximizes the impact of all he does.”
During his UT tenure, the soft-spoken Hopkins served as UTRF Vice President and later as Director of Strategic Operations for the late David Millhorn and his team in the Office of the Executive Vice President. During that period, the state pursued and UT ultimately was responsible for managing something called EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research).
The initiative was focused solely on helping Tennessee be more competitive for federal research dollars, particularly in energy, and the state soon successfully secured a five-year, $20 million award from the National Science Foundation. Named TN-SCORE (Tennessee Solar Conversion and Storage using Outreach, Research, and Education), it was one of the largest grants the federal agency had ever made to Tennessee.
Millhorn was Principal Investigator, while Hopkins oversaw TN-SCORE’s day-to-day operations. The latter described the program to us in greater detail in this mid-2012 article from teknovation.biz.
Was the program successful? Ironically, Hopkins notes that two teams participating in Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s (ORNL) inaugural “Innovation Crossroads” initiative connect directly back to TN-SCORE research at UT and Vanderbilt University.
Now, as IACMI’s permanent CEO, he has embraced his latest challenge as he has all of those that came earlier. He brings his soft-spoken, methodical and analytical approach to the position.
“It started years ago,” Hopkins says of the foundation for IACMI. He recalls a new strategic vision for UTRF that three former SAIC executives (Larry Peck, Mike Cuddy, and Mike Arms) helped develop for McCay in the early 2000s.
“You also needed a structural and organizational framework to make it happen,” he says, crediting Millhorn for championing UTRF’s expanded role that resulted in subsidiaries like Genera Energy, TENNERA, West Tennessee Solar Farm, and Cherokee Farm Innovation Campus. “Stacey Patterson led and is currently leading many of these programs that leverage UTRF and UT assets.”
Hopkins also calls out Craig Blue, the long-time research leader at ORNL who, among other initiatives, had the vision for the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility that was a key component in securing the partners that helped win the IACMI grant.
“It took him (Blue) years to put it together,” Hopkins says. “Some of the things we are now doing with IACMI have the same long timeframe.”
It was about three years ago that then President Barack Obama announced a $70 million grant, supplemented by nearly $200 million in other public and private commitments, to launch the nation’s fifth national manufacturing hub in the Knoxville-Oak Ridge region.
Named the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI), the partnership involving major research institutions, states and corporations has just crossed the midpoint in its five-year initial journey. It was officially launched in June 2015 to join what were then four other centers, now totaling 14, and to focus on composite materials and processes, compressed gas storage, and wind turbines.
Having reached the halfway point in its initial funding and with a new leader, we thought it was a good time to provide our readers with an update on the progress that is being made. So, we sat down before the end of 2017 with John Hopkins, IACMI’s Interim Chief Executive Officer, and posed these questions: what has been accomplished and what’s in the organization’s future?
“We’re making good progress,” he said, citing everything from the numerous IACMI partnerships to new initiatives in participating states including the recently announced Composites Coalition focused on Tennessee.
In his characteristic manner, Hopkins says, “We’re looking to accomplish most of our goals in five years.” Success, however, depends on strategically leveraging assets and partners in ways that solve big problems.
Key building blocks for IACMI locally are the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility and Carbon Fiber Technology Facility operated by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, but several new facilities have emerged in other participating states. Those major investments include the recently opened $50 million lightweighting research and development lab in the Corktown area of Detroit that IACMI and LIFT (Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow), a sister manufacturing hub, are sharing, and another $50 million facility – the Indiana Manufacturing Institute – based in the Purdue Research Park.
“Tens of millions of dollars have been invested by our partners in these connected facilities,” Hopkins explains. Now, the focus is clearly on utilizing these world-class centers to address key challenges in making composites faster while using less embedded energy and also improving recyclability.
“We’re working with our industrial partners to change the marketplace, particularly with respect to carbon fiber composites,” Hopkins said. The strategy involves a select group of key projects led by a key IACMI member but with involvement from others.
“We’re getting into the meat of those industry projects,” Hopkins says. “Ultimately, you need OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) and Tier 1s (direct suppliers to OEMs) working together to be successful.”
Michelman is leading one of those recently announced initiatives, in this case, a project focused on the optimization of vinyl ester resins and fiber sizings for the fabrication of carbon fiber composites. There’s a list of some of the other top priorities on the IACMI website
Hopkins notes that the challenge is not just on the technology side. There’s also the matter of a qualified and well-trained employee base to work in these new or enhanced factories.
“To turn the industry on its head, you have to be cognizant of workforce development,” he says. In that vein, IACMI has a variety of summer internship programs and also offers advanced composites online training course for its members.
As far as the impact of IACMI’s work today and over the next two-plus years, Hopkins takes a long-term view, consistent with the thoughts he expressed in the first article in this series.
“You have to have an understanding of and commitment to long-term returns,” he says. “It (success) takes an extended, persistent commitment.”