President Barack Obama has made major progress despite significant headwinds. The President’s legacy will include the Affordable Care Act, the revival of the American economy from near collapse, the pullout of American ground troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, creation of a secure American Homeland, and efforts to create more income equality in the United States.
Another important legacy is now emerging, and it has received scant public notice.
President Obama has worked with Congress to develop a network of advanced technology consortia to position American leadership in advanced manufacturing technology.
He called for the establishment of a Nationwide Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) in his 2013 and 2014 State of the Union Addresses. Congress was asked to authorize investment (with matching private and non-federal funds) to create 15 institutes initially. Last December, the President signed the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act, into law. The total authorization was $600 million over several years.
Federally funded research consortia are major drivers in innovation of Germany and Japan. German institutions include the Fraunhofer Institute and the 83 research institutes of the Max Planck Society, which is more oriented to basic science. There are also examples of outstanding industry-specific consortia such as the Institute of Plastics Processing (IKV) in Industry and the Skilled Crafts at RWTH Aachen University.
President Obama and his steering committee have staked out 15 areas for initial emphasis in an effort to put America out front of the global competition. Smartly, the first was “America Makes” in Youngstown, Ohio, with a focus on additive manufacturing, which was invented in the United States in 1986 with the first stereolithography machine. The Department of Defense created the Institute in 2012 as a result of executive action by President Obama.
GE recently announced a $32 million investment in a new 3D printing research facility near the consortium.
“When you consider that manufacturing has become increasingly complex and technology-intensive, you quickly realize that all U.S. manufacturers, big and small, face common challenges that are best tackled by a diverse group of stakeholders from academia, government, and industry”, a GE spokesman said. “These institutes have provided fertile ground to discuss the common challenges facing all of us to ensure that America has the cutting-edge technology and workforce expertise to lead the world in advanced manufacturing.”
The newest member of the network is the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation (IACMI) at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tennessee, with a whopping 122 companies, nonprofits, universities and research laboratories. The startup budget, mostly private, is $250 million. Funding members include Ford, Boeing, DuPont, and Dow.
Three other institutes were established by President Obama before Congress passed RAMI: the Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute in Chicago, LIFT (Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow) in Detroit, and Power America at North Carolina State University with a focus on wide bandgap semiconductors.
The next three up are: Flexible Hybrid Electronics (Dept. of Defense), Smart Manufacturing (Dept. of Energy) and the Integrated Photonics Institute (Dept. of Defense). Locations are to be determined.
Although the project was killed once in the House, there was significant bipartisan support in the past Congress. The RAMI Act was introduced by Sens. Brown (D-OH) and Blunt (R-MO) in the Senate and Reps. Reed (R-NY) and Kennedy (D-MA) in the House. There were 118 co-sponsors.
Four of the Institutes show the importance of advanced plastics technology in the future of global manufacturing.
This is really good news.