Issue Date: March 19, 2012
Pushing Advanced Manufacturing
A presidential proposal to create 15 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation is drawing support from industry groups but criticism from some in Congress for its $1 billion price tag.
The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which is part of the President’s 2013 budget request, aims to bring companies together with universities and community colleges, as well as federal, state, and local governments, to tackle important research challenges facing manufacturers.
“These are going to be institutes of manufacturing excellence where some of our most advanced engineering schools and our most innovative manufacturers collaborate on new ideas, new technology, new methods, new processes,” President Barack Obama said on March 9 when rolling out the initiative’s details.
The full network needs congressional approval, but a pilot project will start immediately with $45 million from the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Energy, as well as NSF. DOD will run the pilot program.
Nonprofit research centers, with support from industry, can apply to host an Institute for Manufacturing Innovation focused on a specific research area, says Michael F. Molnar, chief manufacturing officer at NIST and the director of the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office.
For the full-scale program, the federal government proposes to put about $100 million into each project in the first year, with industry partners gradually taking over funding. Winning projects will be chosen through a competition.
“These centers could provide small and midsized companies with ideas, approaches, best practices that could be used to ask the question, ‘How could I move my business from just a U.S.-focused market to a global market?’ ” explains Fred Wentzel, executive vice president of the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing. A focus on small and midsized companies “is the only way to expand exports—the biggies are already doing it.”
But some in Congress are skeptical. “I have initial concerns about the program’s cost, as well as the potential for overlap and duplication with other federal initiatives,” says Rep. Benjamin Quayle (R-Ariz.), chair of the technology subpanel of the House of Representatives Science, Space & Technology Committee. He is also troubled that the Administration would launch the pilot project without congressional approval.
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