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Obama announces $460m for two manufacturing hubs

26 February, 2014

US President Barack Obama has announced two new public-private manufacturing innovation institutes – one, in Chicago, that will focus on digital manufacturing and design technologies; the other, in Detroit, that will focus on advanced lightweight metals – as well as a competition for the first of four more institutes aimed at boosting advanced manufacturing in the US. The two new institutes will together be supported by $140m of federal funding, combined with more than $140m from the private sector, universities and other organisations.

The two new manufacturing institutes follow President Obama’s recent announcement of the first of these hubs that will work on advanced power semiconductors. Eventually, he hopes to have a network of around 45 of the institutes, but achieving this vision will depend on Congress agreeing the funding. Each institute will act as a regional hub, bridging the gap between applied research and product development by bringing together companies, universities and other institutions.

The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DMDI) Institute will be led by UI Labs and backed by a consortium of 73 companies, universities, non-profit organisations and research labs. The aim is to create a partnership between manufacturing experts and software companies to enable interoperability across the supply chain, to develop enhanced digital capabilities for designing and testing new products, and to cut manufacturing costs across multiple industries.

Along with the $70m of funding from the US Department of Defense, UI Labs has secured an extra $250m of support for the DMDI institute from industry, universities, and other partners, for a combined budget of around $320m. The 41 companies involved include Autodesk, Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric, Haas Automation, Honeywell, Microsoft, National Instruments, Procter & Gamble, Rolls-Royce and Siemens.

The institute will be working at a new frontier in manufacturing, where high-tech products are designed and tested largely within virtual environments, and tailored individually for performance. The hope is that integrating the design, development, and production of complex systems will speed the progress of ideas from the lab into commercial production, as well as cutting costs and shortening production lifecycles. The institute aims to take advantage of the strength of software development in the US, where 80% of the world’s software is said to be produced.

“We want suppliers to be able to collaborate with customers in real-time, test their parts digitally, and cut down on the time and money that they spend producing expensive prototypes,” Obama said when announcing the DMDI institute at the White House. “We want our manufacturers to be able to custom-design products tailored to each individual consumer. We want our troops to be able to download digital blueprints they can use to 3D print new parts and repair equipment right there in the field. These are all ambitious goals, but this is America – that’s what we do, we’re ambitious.” 

Challenges that the DMDI institute will face include: establishing true interoperability; managing intellectual property interests; maintaining network technology and security; finding the necessary workforce skills; and establishing new organisational cultures that embrace the digital approach.

The Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) institute team, located in Detroit and led by EWI, will bring together a 60-member consortium that will pair leading aluminium, titanium, and high-strength steel manufacturers with universities and laboratories pioneering new technologies. The long-term goal is to expand the market for – and create new consumers of products and systems that utilise – new, lightweight, high‑performing metals and alloys, by removing technological barriers to their manufacture.

President Obama announced a competition to find a location for another manufacturing technology institute, which will focus on advanced composites.

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