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Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL hosts first Innovation Days
Two robotic arms, one on the left side of the frame and one on the right  - are pointing at a brown three pronged shape on a table. There are people in the background looking at this setup.
Innovation Days attendees tour the MedUSA large-scale hybrid robotics system in the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL. Credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Momentum for manufacturing innovation in the United States got a boost during the inaugural MDF Innovation Days, held recently at the U.S. Department of Energy Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, or MDF, at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The biennial event brought together more than 120 representatives from industry, ORNL, U.S. Department of Energy offices and academia. Discussions centered on ways these entities can come together to revitalize U.S. manufacturing through collaborative cutting-edge research that also aligns with national clean energy goals.

“Innovation Days was an outward presentation of what's been going on here in East Tennessee over the last decade and more,” said ORNL Chief Manufacturing Officer Craig Blue. “To be competitive as a nation, we need to innovate fast on clean energy solutions and strengthen manufacturing supply chains. The public-private model we’ve developed here at MDF, combined with the deep scientific expertise at ORNL, is doing just that.”

Group of more than 20 people standing in front of a brown building with a wind turbine tip that is long, white and looks like an elongated triangle.
More than 100 representatives from industry, government and academia attended the first biennial Innovation Days, posing with a wind turbine tip in front of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL. Credit: Carol Morgan/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Event attendees experienced tours of the MDF and related facilities, as well as presentations, breakout discussions and lightning talks by industry. 

“This has been a great opportunity to share the MDF ecosystem with innovators across the manufacturing space,” said MDF Director Ryan Dehoff. “Collaborations are the heart of MDF, so getting the chance to connect with so many potential new collaborators is exciting.”

Industry attendees included a mix of current ORNL partners and many companies new to the MDF innovation ecosystem. Chief Technology Officer of Shift Thermal, Mitch Ishmael, attended and gave a lightning talk on the company’s heat exchanger technology. 

Two girls and a guy looking at a poster board.
Student Komal Kooduvalli from the Rochester Institute of Technology discusses her research on carbon capture with attendees at the Innovation Days Workforce Development Reception. Credit: Alonda Hines/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

“At Shift Thermal, we've got a lab-proven, commercially scaled technology that now just needs to make it in the field and through the pilot phase,” said Ishmael. “Innovation Days has been a great opportunity for us to meet those prospective pilots and partners.” 

Shift Thermal initially partnered with ORNL through Innovation Crossroads, a DOE Lab-Embedded Entrepreneurship Program node at ORNL. Innovation Crossroads is supported by several DOE programs, including the Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office, or AMMTO, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

Representatives from AMMTO, which also provides support for MDF, were joined by colleagues from the DOE offices of Wind EnergyWater PowerManufacturing and Energy Supply Chains and Nuclear Energy, sparking discussions on how best to leverage scientific resources and industry input for greater mission alignment across DOE’s clean energy programs.

Innovation Day attendees discuss ORNL’s work in automation and controls for large-scale metal additive manufacturing. Credit: ORNL/Carlos Jones, U.S. Dept. of Energy
Innovation Days attendees discuss ORNL’s work in automation and controls for large-scale metal additive manufacturing. Credit: Carlos Jones/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

“It was helpful to hear the perspectives of the various DOE program offices, their priorities and how they operate both independently and together,” said Ben Murray, project manager for the DOE Wind Energy Technologies Office. “It was also great to hear industry priorities and concerns they may have encountered when trying to engage with DOE and government.”

An evening workforce development reception at the ORNL Spallation Neutron Source included remarks from event sponsors: the University of Maine, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville and IACMI—The Composites Institute. At the event, more than 35 undergraduate and graduate students from 13 academic institutions across the country discussed the research they conducted under the mentorship of ORNL staff.

“Through our workforce development partnerships, we are ensuring students are getting hands-on experiences and developing the necessary skills to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce,” said ORNL Director of Advanced Manufacturing Bill Peter. “Students are passionate about their research, and it was fantastic to have them at Innovation Days to put that energy on display.”

Arial shot of MDF building with machines and people scattered about, big american flag in the background
Tours of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility’s high bay floor gave attendees the opportunity to talk to researchers and learn more about their innovations. Credit: Genevieve Martin/ORNL, U.S. Dept. of Energy

Support for MDF Innovation Days was provided by the DOE Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office. The MDF is a nationwide consortium of collaborators working with ORNL to innovate, inspire and catalyze the transformation of U.S. manufacturing.

UT-Battelle manages ORNL for the DOE’s Office of Science, the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States. The Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit