Bob Vavra talks with Berardino Baratta

“An Interactive Discussion With Members”

Aug. 25, 2022
MxD’s Berardino Baratta discusses how his organization reaches out to bring all manufacturing stakeholders together.

Berardino Baratta, the new CEO of advanced manufacturing consortium MxD, talked with Machine Design senior content director Bob Vavra to discuss the mission of MxD in a wide-ranging interview. They talked about MxD’s success to date, how more manufacturers could use MxD on their own projects, and the future of digital technology. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Click here for the full video of Bob Vavra's interview with Berardino Baratta.

MXD’s Growth

Bob Vavra: First of all, congratulations on being named the new CEO of MxD.

Berardino Baratta: Thank you so much. It’s pretty exciting to be in this role. You know, it’s an amazing team. We’re doing some really good work and the opportunity to lead this organization is really something that I’m humbled by the opportunity, but also really excited by it at the same time.

BV: You’ve been associated with MxD for many years. Talk about where the organization is now and how you’ve seen it grow and change over the last few years.

BB: I joined MxD three years ago this month. Initially, I came in to run the tech strategy team underneath. Two years ago, when the VP of engineering projects and engineering role opened up, I made the transition into that team and I’ve been running that group up until this most recent posting. But when you think about it, it’s roughly three and a half, four years ago that Chandra [Brown], our previous CEO, came on board and the organization dramatically changed. We changed names, but that was just one message of it.

We joked that we became more efficient: We went from a five-letter acronym to three. But really, when you think about it, we’ve expanded what we do and our mission hasn’t dramatically changed. We’re here to help manufacturers, so we want to strengthen their operations. We want to make them more secure. We are the Digital Institute and the Cybersecurity Institute, so really that’s where you’re going to see our focus. But the amount of impact into manufacturing has shifted, and I’ll give you some numbers, right?

We were named as a national center for cybersecurity in manufacturing. That happened in the last three-and-a-half years. We received congressional funding to implement some of those programs. You know, right now I’ll leave it at that. But later, hopefully we can dive into some of the cybersecurity elements.

In the last three years, we’ve tripled the number of active projects to 66 today, across our whole portfolio, digital supply chain, factory floor, cybersecurity and workforce. What’s really interesting is in the first eight years of the institute, we completed 74 projects. So today we have almost as many active projects as we completed in eight years.

These projects are across that whole portfolio of activities. It’s all there to try to help strengthen manufacturing. We’ve started doing some work in the last two years with the Department of Defense at their facilities to help them modernize. We’re working with Rock Island Arsenal here in Illinois. We’re helping them lead some of their modernization efforts to really start bringing advanced manufacturing to their floor. If you ever get a chance to visit this facility, it’s an amazing facility with over 100 years of history. They have some things that you could think are out of World War II/Korea timeframe. Some of those elements, though, are cutting edge, and we’re trying to make sure that we bring forward all of their legacy equipment and legacy technology to make them the most effective.

If you visited MxD before the pandemic, and you visited today, it is 70% different—80% almost—almost every element of that floor is changed. One example of that is AT&T and Datacom, as members, we have a fully functional 5G network here, not just one but two. We actually can cover all of the 5G technologies that manufacturers are looking to use. And working with the government and industry, we have funding to go build out a series of testbeds that we’ll start looking at the use cases that both industry and the DoD need and so that we can start testing 5G use cases here in our factory environment.

Workforce Development

BB: [Workforce Development is] probably the most important thing that we do, because this is really making sure that not only do we have the factories of tomorrow with the technologies of tomorrow, but also the people to run them and to produce the parts that we want. So, working with industry and academia. We launched, just before I joined, a digital taxonomy that looked at the roles of the future for digital engineering and digital manufacturing.

In 2020, we issued a Cybersecurity for Manufacturing Hiring guide that identified over 180 roles that [reflect] how cybersecurity affects manufacturing. In total, we have over 427 roles identified and we built out success profiles and career pathways.

What does someone look like early-, mid- and late-stage in their career? The pathway is the way to get there. How do you take someone that’s never considered a manufacturing role and find them an entry-level career in this space? To me, this is the most interesting thing we do because it it’s impacting human lives. If we can create an opportunity for someone to have a career in manufacturing that they didn’t have access to before, these are fulfilling careers that can really help take care of people and change their lives.

You know, there’s predicted to be a 3-million-person shortfall in jobs by the end of the decade. We really want to do our part to help fill those gaps.

That’s just a glimpse in the stuff we’ve been doing, but if you think as an as an institute, we’re fulfilling our mission. The fact that we’re the second oldest mission is allowing us to have some time meet underneath that we can build on. And that’s how you’ll see it with all these different activities that where maybe the seeds were planted three or four years ago, but now we’re really starting to reap the benefit of it.

Importance of Partnerships

BV: MxD has evolved also from the very beginning. This initiative started as a public/private and government cooperation on this front. But it’s really evolved. It’s not solely government funded anymore. Your partners are very heavily involved in this, both from the supply side and from the academic side. Can you talk about how that process has evolved?

BB: You mentioned public/private partnership, right? This is not about just government funding. It’s really about a co-investment. We’re a partner organization with 300-plus members today. Like manufacturing, a small handful of the big manufacturers—the Lockheed, the Boeing, the Dow. And a lot of solution providers at the top, as well—Siemens, Microsoft, AT&T and others.

But the bulk of our members are small manufacturers. There are startups and small solution providers. There are 40-plus academic institutions. We really try to bring together the best of everyone’s abilities to try to target those problems that are too big for any one manufacturer.

So as much as I would love to go to Boeing and fix Boeing’s problems and make Boeing make a better airplane, I’d rather figure out what are the problems that affect Boeing and Dow and Datacom for their partnership programs.

Now we’re looking at a supply chain problem and we then target technology from the government side and money from the government side into those problems. But we match it to the private investment of both capital and people so that together they’re trying to solve these problems. As a membership consortium, everybody benefits. We make sure that everyone within the consortium gets something out of a project.

I’ll give a couple of examples: We’ll do a project related to supply chain resiliency. So we had a first-generation project that was with Dow and Microsoft and Purdue University. They worked together showing how you can use artificial intelligence to identify risks within the supply chain. When we had the opportunity with CARES Act funding to build on that, we expanded that program out and started looking at a much broader form of risk, but also much broader tools in place to try to mitigate that risk.

So it’s all about not just building a project and saying, “Here’s some technology, we’re done.” It’s about that interactive discussion with the members. How do you start taking the solution out of one project, understanding the impact, move to the next one? But it doesn’t just end the projects. We talk about projects a lot because it throws up the good numbers—140 projects to date, $150 million total investment. These are big numbers, but things like workshops and seminars, we put on a lot of these things.

When we went into the pandemic, we shifted everything to virtual. So now we call them all webinars, but it’s the same thing. How do you bring together experts? How do you bring together the people that are trying to solve these problems to enable a conversation? So we did a 5G workshop in 2019 that really started looking at the art of the possible for 5G. In 2021, we followed up with a workshop that started making it more grounded in reality. We’re now in discussions where people share their real examples of how they’ve implemented it.

The people that are implementing, they get some value out of sharing it. But what’s really interesting is [asking] who are that next tier of manufacturers that can take that outcome and really start benefiting [from] it?

We did one for Future Factory that looked at what the future of manufacturing would look like. Out of that, we found out that data was the key piece, so we had a follow-up session that really started looking at how do you generate the data within a factory and then share it both within your operations [and] among the supply chain.

Factory of the Future

BB: The last piece I want to hit is the Future Factory. Our space here in Chicago, 22,000-sq.-ft. space, right, where MxD and our members, we put into practice Industry 4.1 cybersecurity. It’s not just the PowerPoint, it’s not just a concept. You can come in and see these things. Some of them, you can actually…go touch them and play with them. Our assembly test bed is a fan favorite because they get to actually play with the tech up front. But each of those 10,000 visitors that come through our doors initially in person, now it’s a combination of virtual and in-person.

A high school student come through it and understands what manufacturing looks like. It’s not what they see in the movies. Here’s the reality of how advanced the technologies are in that space. You can have a CEO that comes through and they start realizing, oh, that $100 million request or that million-dollar request for equipment, that’s what they need.

So it’s not a concept. It’s actually they can see it and touch it. But the piece that’s also important is you get a small business owner [who] not only sees the benefit of digital, but they can also learn the effects of cybersecurity attacks and that they are at risk. So now they can start taking mitigations to deal with that risk and close that risk within their operations.

We highly encourage people to come to our facility. This is just the tip of the iceberg on the offerings that we can provide, but it’s really about that partnership between government, industry, academia, all working together. And we’re the facilitator that makes that happen.

A Focus on Small- to Mid-sized Manufacturing

BV: Your neighborhood is starting to attract more and more like-minded companies. I know one of your partners is Fast Radius. They’ve also set up shop not too far away.

BB: Fast Redius is a great example. They started here. There is some urban legend that they never paid rent—they just kind of showed up. I don’t know, can’t prove or deny that fact. What’s amazing is we’ve watched them grow from a small startup into a public entity now they’ve done an IPO.

As you notice, they’ve built a facility and over that period of time they were smart about leveraging MxD. They had rented space here when they needed extra space. They use our technology, they use the ecosystem to build partnerships. It’s really on a membership side. I always tell people, the more you invest into the membership, the more you’ll reap as a reward, and that applies to a small business just as much as it does to a large one.

BV: And Fast Radius is a good example of something else that we really talk about. You mentioned the Dows and Boeings of the world, but they’ve got staff built in who research these things and can do the kind of onsite R&D for their own company on some of these issues. But these are very scalable solutions, and small- and mid-size manufacturers can and should be taking advantage of some of this R&D. So talk about how they can get access, first of all, and then also take better advantage of the work that you’re doing.

BB: You hit the nail on the head when you said that most manufacturers are small and they can take advantage of this technology. A lot of times we have to get them to realize that it is something that they can achieve because they think “I’m too small, I can’t afford to do this.”

The piece that’s really interesting is small manufacturers can’t afford to do risky investments. They want to know, “if I spend a dollar, when am I going to see my dollar back and what’s the benefit my operation is going to receive from it?”

We do things where every project has to have a piece of outcome, some tangible value that’s provided to all members, no matter what size. For a lot of them, it’s playbooks, it’s outcomes where they can actually understand, okay, here’s what it took to build this technology. Here’s the benefit that we saw. Here’s the problems that we faced so they can go into these efforts, eyes wide open, but it gets even more. We actually launched a project called that specifically built a tool to help small businesses look at the ROI behind digital adoption.

Now you have a tool that’s just in the process of completing that every member will have access to, that they can go in there, they can look at some categories of digital technology. It’ll explain the benefits they receive from it. It’ll explain how you have to actually implement it and then tell you, here’s what the ROI looks like, and it’s based on actually working with SMMs, not just the theoretical that, oh, Boeing did it, and here’s what we think it’ll be for you.

But out of that is also playbooks. You know, next step that comes out of it is some manufacturers, you give them that information on the ROI, they’re ready to go. You have everything they need; they can just take off. Some need more information. And so in those cases, we have things around like (asking) how do you implement a technology piece?

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