The Composite Prototyping Center – a nonprofit manufacturing mecca specializing in carbon fibers, ceramics and other non-traditional building blocks – opened in Plainview in 2014 under the steadiest of hands. Executive Director Lenny Poveromo brought a quality education (a BS in chemical engineering from Lehigh University and an MBA from Hofstra), decades of cutting-edge manufacturing experience (he directed East Coast technology development for Northrop Grumman) and sterling connections (he’d served on the advisory boards of both CEWIT and the AERTC at Stony Brook University). Three years later, Poveromo is pleased with the CPC’s progress and excited about Long Island’s manufacturing future, which might not be exactly what you expect. His view:
Big picture: Things are going well. As a nonprofit, our main mission is supporting small and medium-sized companies, as well as STEM programs and other workforce-development activities. We’re on our way with both missions, and it’s a fairly big achievement for, essentially, a center that’s unique in the United States.
One and only: We have $15 million worth of equipment that’s available to rent. We own no IP. We can work with everyone from universities to small and large corporations, and we work with these companies in a synergistic manner – they go off and develop their businesses as a result of the materials and designs we help create, without the risk of buying a $5 million piece of equipment that we already have. I’m not aware of any center like this that’s not affiliated with a single university or a single corporation. We stand alone.
Full circle: The equipment manufacturers have worked with us on cost, because they realize the benefits. Companies come in and use the equipment, and if it all works out, then they go buy their own. The system has worked out well. Thermwood Corp. (an Indiana-based maker of CNC machining tools) has sold three machines as a result of this.
Pay scale: We have to come up with our own money. We do it through rentals, through support and design and analysis services. The STEM programs we work with also help to cover our costs. We’re not making a profit, but we’re covering our costs.
Satellite office: We’re also the Northeast satellite for the Institute for Advanced Composite Manufacturing Innovation, which is headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn. They get $70 million from the Department of Energy and matching funding from industry. We propose projects to them, and they fund them on a per-project basis.
Watching the White House: I don’t know how it’s going to play out. But there are some 12 or 14 IACMI centers around the United States, and the money they get from the federal government is being doubled or tripled by industry, and the whole idea is to manufacture jobs – which I think is what the new administration is interested in. So, I think the (IACMI’s) chances for survival are good.
Old hand with new materials: I was working at Grumman when advanced composites were just starting, in the late 1960s and 70s. So, I’ve been involved in the industry since its inception. Being at Grumman got me in on the ground floor of composites, and I was there when Grumman and, subsequently, Northrop Grumman became a leader in composites manufacturing.
I, robot: One of the things we emphasize with the high school STEM programs is that manufacturing today is all about robotics. It’s a clean industry with very good job opportunities in materials science and materials engineering, which are critical parts of new manufacturing businesses.
Certifiable: Now we have the first nationally certified composite-training program in the Northeast. We’re going to be launching it through Stony Brook’s [Manufacturing Extension Partnership]. We’ll be working with a number of agencies, and when students complete the program they can look for employment as certified technicians. I don’t want to mention any names, but there are a couple of serious companies that want to train their employees in this arena.
Tanks a lot: I believe the automotive industry will become a major player in what we’re doing. We’re working with DuPont through the IACMI to develop hydrogen storage tanks, and if we can develop those, it will be an incredible breakthrough. If we can get to a point where we can use hydrogen tanks on a passenger car, then hydrogen becomes a viable fuel. Right now, they’re too heavy. But we’re getting there – the first tanks will be on panel trucks, and hopefully that will come together in about a year.
Manufacturing a new future: I do believe Long Island has a strong future in manufacturing, but high-end manufacturing, using computers and robotics. That’s what we tell the kids. The future is in nanotechnology and 3D printing and advanced materials designed with sophisticated computers and manufactured with advanced techniques, creating components that are cost- and weight-efficient. For instance, the new 787 built by Boeing – the entire fuselage is made from composite materials.
The stuff dreams are made of: This is an era of materials, an age of new materials. New materials will pervade everything we do and everything we build in the future. We see ourselves as a vanguard of that. We’re working at the higher end, working with advanced materials and advanced manufacturing concepts, and helping to translate them into new concepts for these companies. This is certainly economically viable, here on Long Island and in New York State.
Interview by Gregory Zeller