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Michigan engineer to lead national manufacturing ‘think-and-do’ tank

A U-M engineering professor will lead a national consortium to identify emerging advanced manufacturing technologies to enhance the country's innovation ecosystem, manufacturing competitiveness and national security, the White House announced today.| Medium Read
EnlargePortrait of Sridhar Kota
IMAGE:  Sridhar Kota is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Herrick Professor of Engineering.

A University of Michigan engineering professor will lead a national consortium to identify emerging advanced manufacturing technologies to enhance the country’s innovation ecosystem, manufacturing competitiveness and national security, the White House announced today.

Sridhar Kota, the Herrick Professor of Engineering at U-M and director of the Institute for Manufacturing Leadership, will lead MForesight: The Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) and the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) are funding MForesight with a three-year, $5.8 million cooperative agreement. The University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy (IRLEE), a unit within the Office of Research that provides technical assistance to hundreds of struggling manufacturing firms, is charged with managing the operations and staffing for this national project.

“As we strive to bring our inventions and discoveries from the lab to the marketplace where they can benefit society, advanced manufacturing is key,” said David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering at U-M. “We are excited to lead this effort.”

With at least 30 leaders from industry, professional associations and academia, MForesight will help align advanced manufacturing research with national priorities to ensure efficient use of federal funding for the greatest possible return on investment. MForesight intends to make connections across industry sectors by building an advanced manufacturing community.

“This consortium will provide a continuous channel to draw on the perspectives, knowledge and insights of not only industry but also academia,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Willie E. May. “Having this access to private-sector viewpoints and studies on urgent questions related to manufacturing technology R&D will help us better coordinate and prioritize research and funding.”

The alliance currently includes representatives from automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical, chemical, consumer products and semiconductor companies; seven other universities (in addition to the University of Michigan) including the University of California-Berkeley, UCLA, the University of Cincinnati, MIT, The Ohio State University, University of Pittsburgh, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute; as well as several trade associations and other thought leaders.

“Engineering and scientific advancements based on fundamental research have been the main drivers of U.S. economic growth over the past half century,” said NSF Director France Córdova. “Thanks to innovative technologies enabled by manufacturing research, production has grown at its fastest pace in more than a decade, creating significant economic value for the nation. To continue to reap these benefits, we must seek new research frontiers for manufacturing and pursue them for high-impact U.S. manufacturing innovation and economic competitiveness.”

The group will examine a broad range of technologies. It could, for example, investigate how to cost-effectively improve quality control in drug-making in order to reduce shortages in certain cancer medications. It could explore how best to manufacture emerging platform technologies such as flexible electronics, which have a wide variety of applications in places like consumer goods, defense and even health care. Technologies will be evaluated based on economic impact, job growth, likelihood of co-investment by the private sector, impact on multiple industry sectors, and the likelihood of the U.S. gaining a first-mover advantage, among other criteria adapted from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report and the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership’s Oct 2014 report. It is this latter report that recommended establishment of a consortium for advanced manufacturing foresight.

The consortium will commission teams of national subject matter experts to provide technology roadmaps and reports on selected emerging technologies that outline projections for development, application, and economic impacts. MForesight will also commission two working groups to report on best practices for technology maturation and commercialization, as well as in education and workforce development.

“With collective access to over 30,000 subject matter experts across a wide range of industries, MForesight will serve as a continuous mechanism for research coordination across the public and private sectors,” Kota said. “ ‘Foresight’ is the key word. In this ‘think-and-do’ tank, we will identify emerging technologies early on so the nation can invest public and private sector dollars in a way that builds the infrastructure, knowledge and workforce skills needed to anchor manufacturing technology in this country.”

Kota, a mechanical engineering professor and entrepreneur, served as assistant director for advanced manufacturing at the White House from 2009-2012. He helped to create Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership in 2011 and the Manufacturing Innovation Institutes in 2012.

The Institute for Manufacturing Leadership focuses on policy, education and outreach. IRLEE focuses on the impact of economic trends on the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities; wide-ranging economic program interventions for communities in distress to stimulate economic development; and evaluation of the effectiveness of interventions.

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