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I spoke with Dr. Don A. Kinard, a senior fellow at Lockheed Martin, at the recent SMTA Dallas Expo. Don gave a fantastic presentation on digital twin technology and how it has changed Lockheed’s manufacturing process. In this interview, Don shares some insight into implementing digital twin, trends in the supply chain, and the CHIPS Act’s effect on our industry. He also discusses—importantly—the need to inspire our next generation of engineers with the same sense of wonder that Americans felt during the early Apollo missions.
Barry Matties: In our industry, the challenge for implementing digital twin is finding the talent to implement it. What should we be thinking about and how do we move forward when it comes to staffing?
Don Kinard: Engineers coming out of school must be educated toward software and CAD. They must really understand what we're trying to do, whether it's computational fluid dynamics, fuel system, physics-based modeling, or software-based modeling. Siemens, Dassault, and PTC provide the tools, but you need that knowledge of the business to make those tools work and know where to go with them. I don't think we'll have tools that just do our work for us.
We have to create that group of engineers that wants to do that modeling and simulation work. We have some amazingly talented people who do exactly that. We need to foster that creativity and technology. It’s also a place where we need government, academia, and industry working together.
Too many universities in the U.S. are teaching content that’s not applicable. I'm a huge fan of the Fraunhofer model in Germany, where industry, government, and academia work together on content that can be applied. We need more of that. I need NASA funding the modeling and simulation, and universities working on projects I care about.
To do that, we might change from an NIH- and NSF-type of funding to more of an engineering-applied funding. I think there's a lot of opportunity there.
Matties: Now, you’re obviously aware of the CHIPS Act. How will that affect the supply chain?
Kinard: It’s disappointing that almost all the manufacturing technologies I mentioned in my presentation come from overseas. We need industrially polished policies like the CHIPS Act. We've let that business go overseas, whereas other countries have industrial policies that fund and support their industries with advanced technology. We should be much more like that. The CHIPS Act represents an opportunity to onshore the chip business and bring some of that business back.
Now, will the technology come back as well? We can’t force companies to give us the technology, like they might do in some other countries. The CHIPS Act represents an opportunity to control our own destiny.
Think about rare earth metals—90% of the world's supply come from China: cobalt, nickel, titanium, and all those metals that we need when we think about our future. It's one thing to be dependent on Germany, Belgium, Japan, South Korea, or Taiwan. I'm more comfortable with that, even though I'm jealous of their technology. But having China in charge is a whole other game.
Matties: It is a different game. You've mentioned your career spans nearly 40 years with Lockheed. What has been the most surprising or memorable moment for you?
Kinard: It was either the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor or the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lighting II, but I remember that thousands of engineers, suppliers, and partners from around the world came together to build it; it was amazing. We put together such incredibly complicated planes with millions of lines of code. The most interesting part is working with engineers and observing how they think and solve problems. I love that process and to watch how it has improved over time. We keep finding ways to make it better. I'm a kid from the Apollo age. I was 14 years old when we landed on the moon, and I was thinking, "Holy crap, this is fantastic."
Watching those events as a kid drove me into this wonder. That’s where we need to be too. We need more engineers, more people to appreciate the creation of things. To do that, whether it's an Orion mission or one to the moon, we need a national drive to inspire us to go where no man has gone before. That inspires generations.
We're so dependent on our STEM curricula, and that’s an area where we need to do absolutely everything we can. Women are typically not attracted to engineering. They're attracted to more natural sciences. But we need women and minorities. For us to grow and flourish, we need full representation in the engineering pool. When I was younger, we had a lot of manufacturing, but the managers were engineers; there was a big drive for that. Now, 30 to 40 million jobs have gone into manufacturing, and we don’t have those role models anymore for becoming an engineer.
Matties: Why is it important for you to speak at a regional SMTA event like this?
Kinard: There are two reasons. Obviously, I'm interested in promoting Lockheed Martin as a technological force in the industry. But I also want to show all the technology that's possible. We need to inspire others. You’ve heard me mention a few times, "We haven't figured out how to do that yet," or, "We haven't quite figured that out yet." I need people to help figure that out. I need to see someone come to the table and say, "We're working on this; we're trying to do this." That’s so important.
Barry: Thank you so much.
Kinard: My pleasure. It’s great talking with you.