Article

04/02/12

Manufacturing Demonstration Facilities Lead Efforts to Reinvigorate US Manufacturing Sector

By Alliance Industrial Intern Jacob Johnson

The Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), launched last summer by President Obama at Carnegie Mellon University, is aimed in part at developing public-private partnerships to increase private investment and capabilities in U.S. manufacturing.  The partnership’s steering committee includes four groups, or “work streams,” focused on various areas of manufacturing development including manufacturing policy, technology development, shared infrastructure and facilities, and education and workforce development.  Andrew Liveris, CEO of the Dow Chemical Company and Susan Hockfield, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, lead the committee.  This group of stakeholders will work with the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office to both implement recommendations put forth by the AMP steering committee and provide common interagency coordination of advanced manufacturing programs being initiated across the federal government.

Institutes of Manufacturing Innovation

As part of this initiative, the President recently announced a plan for “Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation,” – essentially teams from various organizations that will work to apply advanced technologies within the manufacturing sector. They particularly want to approach small and medium manufacturers that are not always able to perform the R&D required to develop new technologies. Initially, a pilot Institute will be launched. If successful, this pilot institute will serve as the forerunner for up to fifteen institutes that would form a “National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.”         

Manufacturing Demonstration Facilities

As the Institutes are teams linked with a central research institution, their linchpin will be Manufacturing Demonstration Facilities (MDFs), where advanced manufacturing technologies, new production systems and innovations, and even legacy technologies can be approached by a team with the goal of developing production-enabling products focused on specific technical areas of manufacturing. Driven by the Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office, the goal behind these MDFs is to allow manufacturers to develop new, energy efficient and flexible manufacturing technologies based on research and innovation performed in a shared infrastructure. This is anticipated to upgrade existing systems and processes, and offer the possibility of developing new manufacturing opportunities.

Industrial companies, through the MDF, will have access to not only specific technologies developed, but also to the broad expertise housed at the facilities.  Manufacturers will have the ability to enter into agreements with respective MDFs to develop new, energy efficient manufacturing processes, improve existing processes, or develop energy efficient processes for manufacturing entirely new products.  While large companies often have the ability to pursue large-scale research that can inform these types of production enhancements and innovations, smaller manufacturers often do not. Therefore, enabling small and medium businesses to have access to cutting-edge research may offer them the flexibility to improve industrial system efficiency and the entire manufacturing sector’s global competitiveness.

Conclusion

Any new manufacturing technology relies on its ability to contribute to the efficient production of quality products. To be competitive and viable, such technologies need to be increasingly energy efficient.  Since the industrial sector accounts for approximately 30 percent of total U.S. energy consumption (Annual Energy Review 2010), leveraging research and focusing on deployment and application of manufacturing technologies can not only offer companies a needed R&D resource, but also usher in widespread adoption of efficient manufacturing technologies.