An old proverb reminds us, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Great innovation is the result of facing a challenge and finding a unique way to overcome it. Overcoming challenges often relies on partnership and teamwork to identify and achieve common goals. The challenges facing manufacturers today range from how to grow profitability, increase energy productivity, and reduce costs and waste, while also utilizing state of the art technology and being environmentally sustainable. We continue to rely on manufacturing as a foundation for the country’s economy and as a way to create and ensure economic growth. It is who we are as a nation.
The Advanced Manufacturing Office strives to support a culture of technology innovation that builds on the idea of working together to address critical manufacturing challenges: our partners in industry, academia, state and local government, and our national research laboratories are our allies in achieving this innovation. Each partner brings unique expertise, resources, and talent to drive innovation of new technologies and practices.
One way we build industry partnerships to address these challenges is through our Manufacturing USA institutes. These public-private partnerships consist of shared research and development (R&D) facilities that offer affordable access to physical and virtual tools to foster innovation and adoption of promising technologies. The government-wide initiative started with more than $700 million in federal funding which catalyzed over $1.4 billion in non-Federal resources from industry, academia, and state governments. Hundreds of companies and universities are now active partners in the ten independent but collaborative institutes that have been announced to date. It is important to work with industry because they identify and pinpoint possible technical solutions to challenge areas. They are directly connected to the global marketplace for manufactured goods and need to adapt to stay competitive. They can also identify where the knowledge and skills gaps are in the workforce and can help determine how we close those gaps through workforce development and training. What AMO brings to the table is an ability to support shared innovation infrastructure and reduce the uncertainty of adoption for new technologies and practices in manufacturing.
The Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, announced in June of this year, will leverage advancements in information and communication technology to solve problems and revolutionize manufacturing with tools that can provide a framework for control, predict failure, and streamline processes. This public-private partnership will use open-source digital platforms to enable manufacturers to utilize the tools and technologies that can help improve energy efficiency and productivity to help make them more competitive. It will also invest in workforce development and training to help ensure that workers have the know-how to use exciting new digital technologies such as networks of interconnected devices, sensors, and controls so that both resources and talent can be maximized.
Smart manufacturing technologies can be coupled with other institute work supported by AMO, such as the recently announced Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) Institute. This institute will focus on developing breakthrough technologies to increase the energy efficiency and productivity of manufacturing processes used across an array of U.S. industries, including ethylene for plastics, refining fuels, and other high-value chemical products. While it will focus on physical technology innovation, process intensification research can build on the smart information technology advancements to maximize the potential for innovation.
No matter what the specific focus area is, partnerships always strengthen the potential for innovation to take on manufacturing challenges. When we work together, we are more than the sum of our individual parts and we can ensure that American manufacturing remains economically strong, domestically secure, and environmentally sustainable.