Alumnus Dean Bartles’ career has taken him to the highest levels of innovative manufacturing, and he attributes much of his success to being a Sycamore.
“Getting my Ph.D. at Indiana State was absolutely the best thing I did for my career,” said Bartles, ’13, during an interview a few days before taking the reins of American Robotics, the 14th innovation institute that is part of Manufacturing USA.
President Barack Obama commissioned in 2011 a study to find ways to increase manufacturing jobs in the United States. The group, called the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, came back with a report that resulted in Manufacturing USA. (It was initially known as National Network of Manufacturing Innovation).
Manufacturing USA’s institutes focus on moving promising, early-stage research into proven capabilities ready for adoption by U.S. manufacturers. Typically, the government departments — the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of Energy are the primary ones — offer about $70 million per project, and then the accepting community — state and local governments and education are involved, with others — matches the government grant with money or in-kind contributions.
Since Manufacturing USA started, said Bartles, about $3 billion has been invested to improve American manufacturing. He said these institutes do not manufacture products, but instead they create tools used in the manufacturing of products. And with the cutting-edge technology being developed, Bartles said he believes the world is currently in a new industrial revolution.
“We will truly revolutionize how parts are designed in the future,” Bartles said. “Some people call all of this new data ‘intelligent manufacturing.’”
Some of that intelligent manufacturing is occurring at AIM Photonics, which is manufacturing fiber optic light cables, which are faster and create less heat. NextFlex is focused on developing flexible hybrid electronics technologies — “imagine cell phones you roll up and put into your pocket,” Bartles said. Advanced Functional Fabrics of America is creating fabrics that see, hear, sense, communicate, store and convert energy, regulate temperature, monitor health and change color.
In February 2014, Obama announced from the White House two new institutes, Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow, which develops light-weight metal, and Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), a research institute for applying trailblazing digital technologies to reduce the time and cost of manufacturing, strengthen the U.S. supply chain and reduce acquisition costs for the Department of Defense.
Bartles retired from General Dynamics after a 30-year career and was hired to run DMDII. He was in the White House when Obama announced the addition of the institutes.
Now, after moving on to another challenge and leaving DMDII running strong with more than 300 members, Bartles has set his sights on the newest member of Manufacturing USA: American Robotics.
American Robotics’ primary focus will be on “how can we make robotics technology more affordable and easier to use, and how can we make it easy to repurpose,” Bartles said. Co-bots, which will be one area of technology focus at American Robotics, will work side by side with human workers on assembly lines, particularly on parts of the line where the work is too small for human hands, Bartles said.
Bartles attributes the opportunity to manage these innovative technology firms with his obtaining a second Ph.D. from Indiana State. Back in 2003, Bartles said he searched for a college that offered a degree in advanced levels of manufacturing. Researching the topic online quickly led to Indiana State’s website.
“The courses offered by Indiana State were exactly what I was looking for,” he said. So he set out to earn a doctorate in technology management with a concentration on manufacturing systems.
Most of the courses were offered online. “Everybody logged in at the same time,” Bartles said. “Everybody tries to answer the questions, and it’s lightning fast. I absolutely loved it.”
Bartles and his fellow students were also required to spend eight hours a day for five days on campus, once at the beginning of a semester and once at the end. And, of course, there were exams and a dissertation.
“I learned a lot, and it really helped me in my job, and it advanced my career.”
While Bartles was taking classes at Indiana State, he was also getting awards from General Dynamics, including one for operating the best manufacturing plant four years in a row. “What I was doing at work helped in school, and what I was doing at school helped me at work,” he said.
Bartles’ first college degree was in business from Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.V. He received a Masters of Business Administration degree from Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pa. After nine years of work, Bartles received in 2000 his first doctorate in business administration from NOVA Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Bartles is thankful he has a pair of Ph.D.’s. “I loved that challenge. I did it twice. I don’t think I’ll do it again,” he said.
Bartles has held several national manufacturing positions, including 2016 President of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers, 2016-2017 President of the North American Manufacturing Research Institute, founding Chairman of the Board of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, Past Chairman of the Board of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining to name just a few.
Bartles lives with his wife, Luanne, in Seminole, Fla., but they will soon relocate to Pittsburgh, Pa., where American Robotics has begun operations.