The White House announced that it will coordinate three competitions for teams across the U.S. to win a combined $200 million to develop manufacturing innovation hubs. Teams consisting of any variety of companies, universities, community colleges and nonprofit organizations in one geographic region are eligible to band together to apply for the money. Winners will be picked later this year, the Obama administration says.
The $200 million in federal funding comes from five federal agencies: Department of Defense, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, NASA and the National Science Foundation. The money will be matched by support from state and local governments and industry sources. These innovation hubs are expected to become financially independent, the administration says.
A team of manufacturing experts from throughout the federal government will select the contest winners. A prospective innovation hub’s ability to prove it has a path towards financial sustainability will be a key measure in achieving success in the competition, the administration says.
The goal of the innovation hubs is to bring together academic research with the local business community. Students and workers collaborate to turn an idea into products. Also, the hubs give small manufacturers a place to learn about and test new technologies.
The competition comes on the heels of the government’s successful pilot program of the innovation hub model in Youngstown, Ohio. The President mentioned the Youngstown facility in his State of the Union address this year as a beacon of progress in the struggling U.S. manufacturing industry. The process of additive manufacturing, which is the technical term for 3-D printing, is being developed in Youngstown to help advance the understanding and use of this new technology in the U.S.
In his budget proposal for 2014, the President included $1 billion to launch 15 of these advanced manufacturing hubs throughout the U.S. Congress and the President have not been able to come to a deal over the budget, and so the plan's fate remains unknown.
Industry categories for the three manufacturing hubs the President announced today have been determined and the most applicable government agency assigned to manage the contest.
- Digital manufacturing and design innovation: Department of Defense. Automating supply chains and connecting them to computer networks can help allow factories to change course quickly. Increasing the adoption of sensors and robotics in manufacturing is expected to make the U.S. more competitive globally, according to the White House.
- Lightweight and modern metals manufacturing: Department of Defense. Greater adoption of lightweight metals is expected to advance technologies in a range of industries from medical devices to combat vehicles. Lighter equipment demands less fuel to move it around, making lightweight metals manufacturing both cost and energy-saving.
- Next-generation power electronics manufacturing: Department of Energy. Development of semiconductor technology is expected to enable smaller and more efficient electric cars and a more efficient electric grid, among other applications.
Complete application details, evaluation criteria and deadline schedule will be released from the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy, but they have not yet been published, according to the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. As information becomes available, it will be on the federal government’s manufacturing web site.
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