2016 Catalyst Connecton manufacturing conference. Image courtesy of Catalyst Connection.

Catalyst Connection has hosted several technical conferences in the region, with two previous ones focused on additive manufacturing. For their upcoming Advanced Technology and the Future of Manufacturing Conference, the organization decided to broaden its horizons with some help from the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute and America Makes.

“We thought it would be good to look more into advanced technology as a whole,” says Connie Palucka, managing director of regional initiatives at Catalyst Connection.

That includes delving into unexpected topics like cybersecurity, an area not usually related to manufacturing. But in a world where seemingly impenetrable industries fall victim to hacking, such as the recent major breach at the consumer credit report agency Equifax, the subject has become impossible to avoid.

“Cybersecurity is going to play a role in additive manufacturing, robotics and the industrial internet of things because we’re connecting everything these days and bad guys can hack their way in when they want,” says Palucka.

Taking place on Wednesday, November 1 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cranberry, PA, the daylong conference features representatives from large-scale companies that have integrated new technologies into their operations, including Bayer, Philips and Arconic. Palucka believes the event aligns with Catalyst Connection’s mission of helping Pittsburgh manufacturers grow.

“We’re looking at this as a venue for small- to mid-sized manufacturers to gain some very important knowledge that’s going to help them succeed and be globally competitive in the future,” says Palucka, adding that the conference will go over the challenges companies faced when implementing new technologies like additive manufacturing and industrial robotics, and the benefits they’ve seen as a result. “They’re learning from companies that have already gone through that adoption curve.”

To cover the concerning subject of cybersecurity, they brought on Matt LaVigna, president & CEO for National Cyber Forensics & Training Alliance, a growing nonprofit cyber threat information sharing organization based in Pittsburgh. Other guests include former Oracle Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer, Bob Evans, who will lead a keynote discussion titled, “The Brave New World of Manufacturing in our Data-Driven Economy.” Also speaking is Howie Choset of the ARM Institute, a Pittsburgh-based entity founded by Carnegie Mellon University last year to focus on developing robotic solutions for manufacturing.

Additionally, the conference will feature speakers from America Makes and the GE Center for Additive Technology Advancement.

The conference also serves as part of Catalyst Connection’s latest efforts to strengthen the Pittsburgh region’s manufacturing sector. Launched a year and a half ago, their embedding initiative takes innovations from 14 Manufacturing USA Institutes, each of which focuses on advancing materials and technology in specific areas, from fabrics to robotics, and works to integrate them into established small- to mid-sized manufacturing facilities.

“Each of the institutes is working to advance their specific technology and building up the capabilities to support the workforce needs in those specific areas,” says Palucka, adding that they’re basically “derisking” the technology by supplying the materials and training staff necessary for a successful deployment.

She also thinks the conference will showcase Pittsburgh’s growing role as a diverse manufacturing hub.

“We’ve got so much going on in our region,” says Palucka, citing the city’s bid to attract Amazon, the work being done by the ARM Institute and America Makes, and investments made by huge companies like Shell, which will soon open its cracker plant in Beaver. “I really think if we play our cards right we could really be a global powerhouse in the next few years.”

The Advanced Technology and the Future of Manufacturing Conference will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 1 at the DoubleTree by Hilton in Cranberry, PA. The event is open to the public. Registrations fees apply.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.