President Obama recently announced a new proposal for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation that would strengthen and ensure the long-term competitiveness and job-creating power of U.S. manufacturing. The proposal would build a network of up to 15 Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation around the country, serving as regional hubs of manufacturing excellence that will help to make our manufacturers more competitive and encourage investment in the United States. The President’s Budget proposes a $1 billion investment to create this new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

The President also announced that the Administration will take immediate steps to launch a pilot institute for manufacturing innovation. The pilot institute will be funded from $45 million of existing resources from the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce and the National Science Foundation, and will be selected from a competitive application process.

The Institutes will bring together industry, universities and community colleges, federal agencies, and our states to accelerate innovation by investing in industrially-relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications to bridge the gap between basic research and product development, provide shared assets to help companies – particularly small manufacturers – access cutting-edge capabilities and equipment, and create an unparalleled environment to educate and train students and workers in advanced manufacturing skills. Each Institute will serve as a regional hub of manufacturing excellence, providing the innovation infrastructure to support regional manufacturing hubs and ensuring that our manufacturing sector is a key pillar in an economy that is built to last. This model has been successfully deployed in other countries and represents a gap in the U.S. manufacturing innovation infrastructure that the President’s proposal will address.

The Institutes will each have a well-defined technology focus to address industrially-relevant manufacturing challenges on a large scale and to provide the capabilities and facilities required to reduce the cost and risk of commercializing new technologies. While the Institutes would be competitively selected, several areas of innovation illustrate the opportunities that this proposal could help to realize:

  • Developing lightweight materials, such as low-cost carbon fiber composites (CFC's), that will improve fuel efficiency, performance, and corrosion resistance of the next generation of automobiles, aircraft, ships and trains.
  • Refining standards, materials, and equipment for “3-D printing”(also known as additive manufacturing) to enable low-cost, small batch production using digital designs that can be transmitted from designers located anywhere.
  • Creating a smart manufacturing infrastructure and approaches that lets operators make real-time use of “big data” flows from fully-instrumented plants in order to improve productivity, optimize supply chains, and improve energy, water, and materials use.

The new National Network for Manufacturing Innovation will work to leverage new investment from industry, state and local government, and the research community. This initiative will be a collaboration between Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy.