President Obama Announces Partnership Aimed at Improving Manufacturing Efficiency

On June 24, 2011, President Barack Obama announced the launch of a national effort called the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), which brings together a diverse selection of experts to develop emerging technologies that will restore the global competitiveness of the U.S. manufacturing sector by creating jobs and helping manufacturers reduce costs, improve product quality, and accelerate product development.

The development of the AMP stems from recommendations in a report by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) entitled “Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing.” The report suggests a partnership between government, industry, and academia to present challenges and opportunities associated with the improvement of technologies, processes and products in multiple manufacturing industries, according to a White House press release.

Who is Involved in the Partnership?

The AMP will be led by Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris and Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Susan Hockfield. Under their leadership, the universities and manufacturers taking part in the AMP will work closely with the White House’s National Economic Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy and the PCAST. Together, they will help research, invent, test and deploy cutting-edge manufacturing technologies.

The AMP includes universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California-Berkeley, and University of Michigan. The manufacturers include Allegheny Technologies, Caterpillar, Corning, Dow Chemical, Ford, Honeywell, Intel, Johnson and Johnson, Northrop Grumman, Procter and Gamble, and Stryker.  

Energy-Efficient Innovation in Manufacturing

A key component of the AMP is the effort to develop innovative energy-efficient manufacturing processes. The Department of Energy (DOE) will support this effort by leveraging an initial amount of $120 million over three years to spur the development of new manufacturing processes and materials that will enable companies to cut their manufacturing costs and energy use as well as to eliminate production waste.

U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu spoke about DOE’s role in the AMP. “These investments will support the innovations that American manufacturers need to stay competitive in the global marketplace,” said Chu. “These breakthrough manufacturing processes, technologies, and materials will help American companies to reduce energy waste and lower costs.”

Projects selected for funding under this initiative will focus on new processes and materials that are innovative in their design or impact and capable of being commercialized in the next five to seven years, according to DOE. Through an “Innovative Manufacturing Initiative,” DOE is investing in projects that can be completed in the near future to have a more immediate impact on U.S. industrial competitiveness. DOE expects to fund between 35 and 50 such projects under the AMP. DOE called for project submissions for this initiative and is accepting applications through August 25, 2011. Projects in the early stages of development will be eligible for awards up to $1 million over two years, while projects further along in their development will be eligible for awards up to $9 million over a period that does not exceed three years.

Investing in Advanced Materials

The AMP is also focusing on investing in and developing new, advanced materials that will improve production, reduce waste, and accelerate innovation and efficiency in manufacturing. This effort, titled the “Materials Genome Initiative for Global Competitiveness,” seeks to encourage the development of advanced materials that will provide emerging industries with a means to address challenges in energy, national security, healthcare, and many other key areas. This initiative was announced by the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) and the NSTC cites an example about the development of silicon in the 1970s, which led to the modern information technology industry, to show the caliber of advanced materials development the Materials Genome Initiative hopes to achieve.

In the past, one of the greatest challenges in developing advanced materials has been the long time it takes to move a newly discovered advanced material from the laboratory to the commercial marketplace. For example, lithium ion batteries, which are used to power laptop computers and other electronics, were first proposed in the mid-1970s but were not adopted and put on the market until the late 1990s. The Materials Genome Initiative looks to drastically accelerate the advanced materials development and commercialization processes, which could result in significant improvements to U.S. global competitiveness by ensuring that the U.S. industrial sector remains on the cutting edge of new technology and innovation.

Funding for Advanced Materials

The President’s budget for 2012 includes $100 million to support this initiative, with funding going to the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology for investment in “computational tools, software, new methods for material characterization, and the development of open standards and databases that will make the process of discovery and development of advanced materials faster, less expensive, and more predictable,” according to a press release by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

This massive undertaking – conducted under the umbrella of the AMP, along with the energy efficiency initiative and a number of others – will require the coordination of government, industry, academia, professional societies, and national labs, with the collective goal of promoting a “renaissance of American manufacturing.”