Power Player: Tony Schmitz

Schmitz is working to help rebuild America’s manufacturing industry. A University of Tennessee-Oak Ridge Innovation Institute fellow, Schmitz is a professor in Tickle College of Engineering at the University of Tennessee‘s Department of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Biomedical Engineering and joint faculty for Oak Ridge National Laboratory‘s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. He focuses on manufacturing research in support of the U.S. machine tool industry.

Machine tools are any type of tools used to carry out a manufacturing process. They range from robots that assemble products to machines that use a sharp cutting edge to remove material from an item to produce the desired shape.

Schmitz leads the Southeastern Advanced Machine Tool Network (SEAMTN), a consortium of about 40 companies, colleges and universities, national laboratories, non-profit organizations, and the Tennessee state government. The group seeks to strengthen America’s industrial base through machine tool research and development, education, workforce development, and supply chain support.

“I have a very ambitious goal,” Schmitz said. “It is to get enough people engaged in manufacturing and the machine tool industry that 10 years from now, we no longer have workforce challenges.

“Around the time of World War II, the U.S. led the world in manufacturing,” he said. In the decades since, “the U.S. decided it was going to be a service economy and outsourced manufacturing to other countries. But when you send manufacturing offshore, the innovation and workforce go with it.”

The Department of Defense needs America to be capable of manufacturing the materials needed to maintain its own national security. To help make that happen, the DoD has awarded SEAMTN $5 million in funding.

Schmitz is one of UT-ORII’s first seed grant recipients. He received $100,000 to support three graduate students to work with himself and three other UT-ORNL researchers. Their project employs machine learning (artificial intelligence) to manufacturing process inputs to outputs and adjusts processes to increase productivity and ensure quality. The goal is to develop techniques that can be adopted by industry.

In addition, Schmitz is involved in UT-ORII’s SMaRT (Student Mentoring and Research Training) internship program. SMaRT gives students the opportunity to engage in research and is a recruiting tool for UT and ORNL.

Schmitz, who grew up in Kansas, said he got interested in manufacturing by watching his dad, who worked at the Boeing plant in Wichita. In college, he majored in mechanical engineering. In grad school, he got interested in machine tools.

“I continue to find ways to satisfy my curiosity by modeling manufacturing operations,” he said.

And he loves teaching.

“It scratches my itch to be an entertainer,” he said, adding that at 18, he dreamed of being the frontman for a rock band. “Teaching is as close as I’m going to get to that.”

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