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Innovation Valley: At the Forefront of the Third Industrial Revolution

By: 
Jenny Woodbery
Date: 
Friday, August 1, 2014
Technological advances and scientific breakthroughs are changing the landscape of traditional manufacturing, and Innovation Valley is at the forefront of the renaissance. 
 
The region, home to premier research institutions like Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the University of Tennessee, is quickly becoming a hub for advanced manufacturing.
“There are lots of regions that tout their assets for manufacturing,” said Doug Lawyer, vice president for the Knoxville Chamber. “There is only one region that has in its geography a national lab and research university, and that's part of what makes Innovation Valley so special.”
 
So much so that the regional economic development partnership has identified advanced technology and manufacturing as one of its target industries in its strategic plan, Blueprint 2.0. In the plan, Innovation Valley targets five recruitment clusters that are suited to take maximum advantage of the area's strengths and assets. The advanced technology and manufacturing cluster focuses on recruiting and retaining advanced manufacturers, especially those specializing in automotive parts, carbon fiber and composites, medical equipment, and specialty foods.
 
Over the last year, the region has seen an influx of new and expanded advanced manufacturing operations. Existing manufacturers like Alcoa and DeRoyal have all expanded and beefed up their advanced manufacturing operations. And newcomers like Local Motors, ProNova, and Fresenius Medical Care have made significant commitments to locate to the region because of the great technological assets.
 
One asset in particular that is driving advanced manufacturing businesses to Innovation Valley is ORNL’s the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.  
 
The MDF was created by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office to provide industry with affordable and convenient access to facilities, tools, and expertise to facilitate rapid deployment of advanced manufacturing technologies to enhance the competitiveness of manufacturing in the United States. The MDF concept was conceived to reduce technical risk and support the business case for private investment in new production technologies that will reduce life-cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions, lower production cost, and create new products and opportunities for high paying jobs.
 
One of the emerging technologies being vetted at the MDF is 3-D printing. This technology uses additive manufacturing to print computer-designed 3-D models layer by layer. While 3-D printing has been around since the early 1980s, it’s only now that the technology has become much more advanced and cost effective to use on a wider scale.
 
“Scientists at the MDF are working across the entire supply chain – from 3-D printer equipment manufacturers to make machines that print faster and better parts using different types of materials, to working directly with end users to print very large parts,” said Jennifer Palmer, manager of Industrial and Economic Development for ORNL.

Vehicle Innovation 

MDF currently houses the largest 3-D printer in the U.S. Vehicle manufacturer Local Motors has teamed up with the center to work on its line of innovative products -- including the first 3-D printed car. 
 
“(Innovation Valley) is the birthplace of the third Industrial Revolution with the new focus on manufacturing out of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility,” said Local Motors CEO Jay Rogers. 
 
The Phoenix-based company founded in 2007 by Rogers, opened the doors of a new showroom on Market Square this spring. Local Motors produces a wide variety of vehicles ranging from electric drift trikes to a high-speed, off-road car. All of the vehicles are assembled using local manufacturing partners.
 
“Local Motors is about local vehicle innovation,” said Rogers. “For us that means micro-manufacturing of vehicles that are relevant to a location. It comes with education, jobs, sustainable vehicle production, and service. It’s really a new way of making vehicles for the 21st century.”
 
It plans to unveil the 3-D printed car in September at the Association For Manufacturing Technology’s International Manufacturing Show in Chicago.
 
Local Motors isn’t the only company in Innovation Valley using advanced technologies for automobile production – Alcoa’s Tennessee Operations is working on a $275 million expansion to meet the growing demand for light, durable, and recyclable aluminum sheet for automotive production. 
 
Alcoa has been a pillar of Innovation Valley’s manufacturing community for over a century and has provided countless jobs and economic stability to the region. Its latest expansion, announced last August, is expected to be completed by mid-2015 and create an additional 200 jobs at the facility. Once completed, the plant will be a key supplier to both the packaging and automotive markets. Much of the volume for the automotive expansion is already secured under long-term supply agreements.
 
“Alcoa doing such a significant expansion of its operations for new products specifically for the automotive industry is a tremendous win for the Innovation Valley and our economic development efforts for this target business sector,” Lawyer said.

Advanced Medical Technology

Since 1973, Knoxville has been home to medical manufacturer DeRoyal. The company produces in wide variety of medical supplies, including surgical orthopedics, rehabilitation, wound care, and implants.
 
“Our corporate office is located in Knox County which is often a top recruiting tool for those with the talents needed to succeed in the medical device industry,” said Bill Pittman, DeRoyal president and COO. “Additionally, we have a state-of-the-art machine shop located in Innovation Valley, as well as a high tech injection-molding facility featuring custom automation and proprietary, specialized manufacturing equipment.” 
 
The company’s facility in Powell produces specialized surgical devices for surgical waste fluid management. Pittman said DeRoyal’s latest investment in Innovation Valley has been its Orthopedic Implants Division which produces trauma implants. 
 
“Innovation Valley offers the resources needed to thrive in an ever more competitive landscape,” Pittman said.
 
In the last year, Innovation Valley has acquired two new medical manufacturers –
ProNova Solutions and Fresenius Medical Care. 
 
In 2013, ProNova Solutions, a medical science company that manufactures proton therapy equipment, announced its plans to build a 26-acre facility at Pellissippi Place Technology Park, located in Blount County. Proton therapy benefits include decrease in tissue damage, in debilitating side effects and in secondary cancers by eliminating unnecessary radiation exposure.
 
The $52 million capital investment is expected to eventually create 500 new jobs for the region. The project will help support Provision Health Alliance, a $110 million proton therapy center currently under construction in Knoxville’s Dowell Springs Business Park. 
 
In February, Fresenius Medical Care North America, the world’s largest provider of products and services for kidney dialysis, announced will bring its East Coast manufacturing operations to Innovation Valley. The company will invest $140 million and create 665 jobs in Knox County.
 
The process to recruit Fresenius Medical Care to the area began in May 2013, and was a collaborative effort by the Chamber, Knox County Industrial Development Board, the state of Tennessee, Tennessee Valley Authority, and Knoxville Utilities Board.
 
"In Knoxville, we've found a home with an excellent workforce pool, a facility that will work well for our purposes, and a location that will enable us to serve our customers in the eastern half of the U.S. more efficiently," said Troy McGhee, vice president of manufacturing for Fresenius Medical Care. "We are additionally drawn to the area's outstanding business climate, and are looking forward to developing and expanding our presence here in the coming years."
 
The company is dedicated to raising life expectancy and improving quality-of-life for the one in 10 Americans that will be diagnosed with kidney disease. The Knoxville facility will produce dialysis related products, which will be distributed to Fresenius Medical Care’s clinics and distribution centers in the eastern part of the United States. The company currently serves more than 266,000 patients in 3,220 clinics; 10 of those are located within a 30-mile radius of downtown Knoxville.
 
 
 

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