Strengthening the present. Building the future.

America’s Cutting Edge (ACE)

program overview

America’s Cutting Edge (ACE) is a national initiative to restore the prominence of the U.S. machine tools sector through advances in training and technology. Part of the ACE effort is a new IACMI program that uses virtual training and machining simulation to teach essential manufacturing skills—all designed to help tackle the nation’s skills gap and recover its technical and manufacturing leadership position.

Welcome to ACE.

ACE is supported by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program from the Office of Industrial Policy and brings together the scientific expertise of the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with the workforce development leadership of IACMI – The Composites Institute.

“ACE is intended to help the United States recover the technical and manufacturing leadership position and enable our ability to design and make the machine tools required to produce so many of the products that are used in modern society.” – Adele Ratcliff, IBAS Program Director


Through ACE, IACMI has partnered with the University of Tennessee (UT) and Pellissippi State Community College (PSCC), also in Knoxville, to offer a new, no-cost CNC Machining Training opportunity.

The ACE CNC Machining Training Program uses virtual training and machining simulation to teach essential manufacturing skills through a modular, interactive, learn-at-your-own-pace course on modern CNC machining fundamentals. No prior machining experience is required, and the training is offered at no cost


ACE will build on IACMI’s extensive partner locations.



Through ACE, DOE’s ORNL is focused on increasing the productivity of the existing installed U.S. machine tool base and initiating efforts to create the next generation of machine tools. Established in 2020, the program targets three strategic areas:

  • Developing technologies to increase productivity and efficiency of current machine tools.
  • Developing novel processes and control algorithms to enable hybrid manufacturing.
  • Establishing new machine tool metrology, designs, and controls for large components

Year One Successes

  • Partnered with MSC Industrial Supply to deploy a new machine tool performance measurement system for milling, MillMax™, that allows NC programmers to fully utilize their machine tools without expensive trial and error experiments. Over the first 3 months of deployment at the end of 2020, the system demonstrated an average improvement in material removal rate of 171% and an average cycle time reduction of 40%. The technology was featured on the cover of the October 2020 issue of Modern Machine Shop, and in an IMTS Spark Episode (part of the International Manufacturing Technology Show, the largest US machine tool trade show).
  • Created a new concrete-base machine tool to demonstrate an alternative solution to the traditional (but hard-to-source domestically) machine tool base construction using weldments or cast iron. The new machine tool became operational in October 2020. It was featured in Modern Machine Shop and in several IMTS Spark Episodes.
  • Created a new transfer pallet system to allow easy and accurate repositioning of workpieces between additive and subtractive machine tools. This tool facilitates hybrid additive/subtractive processes.
  • Created a new low-cost cutting force dynamometer. Easy, low-cost cutting force measurement speeds new process development and allows quick checking of machine tool set-up.


Similar to using a flight simulator to provide a safe learning environment for pilots to experience trial and error, Schmitz designed the online component of the ACE CNC Machining Training Program so participants can operate controls and experience CNC machining virtually on a screen, to see what works and doesn’t work — all without the danger of damaging tools or wasting materials. The program’s intent is to train the next-generation machine tool workforce, including future manufacturing engineers, machine tool designers, entrepreneurs, machinists, and others.

There is no cost to participate in this exciting opportunity, but registration is required. Register here.

The online ACE CNC MACHINING TRAINING includes approximately six hours of instruction, including:

  • a machining tutorial, which covers topics including chip formation, tool wear, machining processes, machining equipment, CNC machining, computer aided manufacturing (CAM), and work holding
  • CAM instruction through multiple lessons using an example part
  • a machining dynamics tutorial, which describes the importance of considering machining vibration when selecting CAM parameters
  • CAM lessons that leverage CAM+, a stand-alone app that simulates machining performance and is distributed with the program
  • an introduction to machining cost, which includes tool wear, the influence of machining parameters, and the role of machining dynamics
  • multiple choice quizzes to assess learning and track progress.

All students who finish the online training will receive a certificate of completion, 0.6 continuing education units (CEUs) from Pellissippi State Community College, and a copy of Machining Dynamics: Frequency Response to Improved Productivity.


The IACMI ACE CNC Machining Training Program is a two-part, no-cost training course to help equip the next generation of manufacturers and machinists.

The program consists of:

  1. an online CNC machining training course
  2. an optional one-week, in-person training opportunity
    Tony Schmitz, a UT engineering professor and a joint faculty member at ORNL, teamed up with IACMI to develop the online curriculum and in-person training to address the decline in U.S. machine tool capacity due to such factors as shifting skill sets, the introduction of advanced technologies and an aging workforce.

A recent study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute predicted that by 2028 there would be 2.4 million unfilled jobs in the manufacturing industry.




Who is ACE CNC Machining Training for?

  1. Established machinists who want to learn more about physics-based machining parameter selection, different from what may have been learned in an apprenticeship program. This group may know a lot about machining, but might not be comfortable using an app for machining simulations. Participants in this group can expect to gain knowledge about measuring vibrations in a system, increase decision making ability regarding operation parameters, and become comfortable using an app for machining simulations.
  2. Next generation machinists, future manufacturing engineers, machine tool designers, and entrepreneurs who want to learn more about the benefits, opportunities, and rewards of a career in manufacturing, while gaining an introductory knowledge of the machine tool industry and its central processes. Participants in this group can expect to gain a clear understanding of the total context of machining and the machine tool industry, including its importance for US manufacturing and the US economy. Note: completion of the ACE CNC Machining Training Program does not produce a fully-qualified machinist, but should be considered a comprehensive introduction to the field, for those who have no prior experience.

Why was ACE CNC Machining Training developed?

Jobs in the Machine Tool industry are going unfilled and the need for skilled machinists is now. The ACE CNC Machining Training program does not produce machinists immediately, but is designed to offer a no-cost comprehensive introduction to an unlimited number of interested people, and a no-cost continuing education opportunity for today’s working machinists.

There’s a lack of understanding among most of today’s students and their parents regarding what modern manufacturing facilities look like: high-tech, clean, and efficient. This program offers a no-cost, in-depth glimpse into this is a high-tech industry that enables people to work with computers and build rewarding careers. For the future generation of machinists and manufacturers, the ACE CNC Machining Training program is designed to motivate entrants into the industry based on a clear understanding of the total context of machining and the important considerations.

For the existing workforce, already making parts, the ACE CNC Machining Training program can help machinists make parts more efficiently by learning a new physics-based approach to vibration and how it affects machining processes. The program was intentionally designed to offer short, progressive training modules which can be accessed on-line at no cost and completed at a person’s own pace.

What is a Machine Tool?

Machine tools make the world’s machines. They are integral to our industrial economy, to our health and welfare, and to national defense. Machine tools either directly make, or make the tooling to make, almost everything. They are the basis of modern manufacturing and are fundamental to modern life.

What are Machine Tools used for?

Machine tools directly create aerostructures, automobile engine blocks, scroll compressors, turbine blades, valve bodies, propellers, and more. They make the mold tooling that makes bottles, lids, test tubes, tires, gas tanks, electrical housings, bumpers, dashboards, syringes, contact lenses, and cell phone camera lenses. They make the extrusion dies used to create N95 medical mask filter fibers, Kevlar fibers, pasta, medical tubing, PVC pipes, window frames, and polymer sheets. They make the forming tools used to manufacture auto body parts, white goods, cutlery, helmets, beverage cans, ammunition, wrenches, and more. They produce today’s energy systems, and are critical to U.S. success in cost effective energy generation and distribution.

What is the current state of the U.S. Machine Tool industry?

A low rate of investment in U.S. machine tool innovation for more than a generation has dramatically reduced the ability of the U.S. to generate and produce next-generation machine tools for the manufacture of all kinds of products ranging from medical equipment to transportation to defense materiel. Machine tool companies and domestic supply chains to build modern machine tools have been lost. Today, critical machine tool components commonly procured from overseas include steel, large castings, bearings, ball screws, guideways, spindles, and industrial controls.

Without a domestic machine tool industry, the approximately 30,000 US machine shops (more than 80% of which employ 100 people or fewer) must compete to purchase foreign built machine tools on the world market and demand is outpacing supply. As a result, the existing installed machine base has become dated, inefficient, inaccurate, and incapable of rapidly responding to changing national needs.

With the U.S. currently depending on long international supply chains for basic manufacturing components and equipment, including tooling for injection molds, stamping dies, and much more, our national and economic security has become dependent on foreign sources.

What are some new and future improvements to look for in the Machine Tool industry?

  • Development of new sensing, planning and control strategies to increase the reliability of existing machine tools.
  • Development of new processes and control algorithms to increase the precision of existing industrial systems.
  • Development of materials and methods combining additive manufacturing, in-situ metrology, and precision machining to create high precision ceramic components.
  • Research and application of hybrid processes to reduce cost and manufacturing time for dies and molds.
  • Development of sensing and control strategies for automated fault detection in machining operations.
  • Research and application of processes and materials to additively manufacture shape memory alloy actuators.