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Web Date: March 13, 2012

President Pushes Manufacturing Innovation

Government: Initiative would create regional research centers to spur industry investment
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, President Obama, NIST, NSF, DOE, Commerce

President Barack Obama rolled out details of his proposed $1 billion National Network for Manufacturing Innovation at a speech in central Virginia on March 9. The initiative, which is part of the President’s 2013 budget request, is meant to create 15 regional manufacturing research centers to encourage investment in U.S. factories.

“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,” Obama said at a Rolls Royce plant where he was speaking.

The institutes for manufacturing innovation will bring companies together with universities and community colleges, as well as federal, state, and local governments, to tackle specific research challenges facing manufacturers, according to the White House. Winning proposals will be selected through a competitive process. The Administration notes three areas that are ripe for innovation: lightweight materials, three-dimensional printing, and smart manufacturing.

The network initiative will need to be approved by Congress before full-scale implementation begins. But there will be a pilot project that gets off the ground right away with $45 million in funding from the Departments of Defense, Commerce, and Energy, as well as the National Science Foundation. DOD will run the pilot program.

Reports from the National Science & Technology Council and the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology suggested the need for a focused effort to turn basic science discoveries into technologies for manufacturers, says Michael Molnar, chief manufacturing officer at the National Institute of Standards & Technology and the director of the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office.

U.S. universities, national labs, and research centers are creating basic knowledge, but “more and more, the technology is being scaled up and produced in other places,” Molnar says. “We want to retain and remain the world’s largest manufacturer of advanced products.”

The proposal process is still being developed, Molnar explains, but the concept is that nonprofit institutions, such as universities or research centers, could apply with support from industry. The nonprofits’ research should focus on a broad area in which industry needs support but is at the precompetitive stage, he says. And, he adds, the projects need to be big: The federal government will put about $100 million into each project in the first year, with industry partners gradually taking over support within five years.

“These institutes can support and focus innovation around key technology areas that will ensure a strong future for American manufacturing,” Patrick D. Gallagher, undersecretary of Commerce for Standards & Technology and NIST director. “Ultimately, our collective goal is an industry-led network that helps ensure an innovative and competitive U.S. manufacturing sector.”

 
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