In a fiercely competitive global marketplace, innovation alone is no longer enough. Many nations, including the United States, are driving innovation to implementation through a whole-of-government approach. Accordingly, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) is working to create a competitive, effective, and sustainable manufacturing research-to-manufacturing infrastructure. The goal: enable U.S. industry and academia to solve the “scale-up” challenges that are relevant to industry.
Launched by President Obama in 2012 on the recommendation of his Advanced Manufacturing Partnership, NNMI consists of several Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs) located around the United States, each with common goals but different technological focuses. IMIs serve as regional hubs, bridging the gap between applied research and product development with a focus on key technology areas that encourage investment and production in their region and throughout the United States.
The Department of Defense recently announced that latest IMI addition to the network will be located in Silicon Valley. Focused on Flexible Hybrid Electronics (FHE) and led by the FlexTech Alliance, the new Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute (FHE-MII) brings together more than 160 companies, nonprofits, independent research organizations, and universities, all with the aim to secure U.S. leadership in next-generation bendable and wearable electronic devices. According to the Obama Administration, FHEs have the power to unleash wearable devices to improve medical health monitoring and personal fitness; soft robotics to care for the elderly or assist wounded soldiers; and lightweight sensors embedded into the trellises and fibers of roads, bridges, and, and other structures around the world.
FHE-MII is the seventh institute of nine planned by the Administration to make up NNMI and the fifth of six to be led by DoD. The initiative was launched with a pilot institute aimed at boosting U.S. capabilities and competitive strength in 3D printing and additive manufacturing — America Makes. Located in Youngstown, Ohio, the institute began its work in 2012, focusing on 3D printing design, materials, technology and workforce. It recently opened its first-ever Satellite Center in partnership with the University of Texas at El Paso, located within UTEP’s renowned W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation.
Other institutes in the national network include: DMDII (digital manufacturing and design); LIFT (lightweight metals); PowerAmerica (wide bandgap semiconductors); IACMI (advanced composites); and IP-IMI (photonics). Institutes focused on smart manufacturing and fibers/textiles are expected to be announced soon.
One of NNMI’s primary goals is helping small- and mid-sized manufacturers access new, cutting-edge equipment and encouraging collaboration to reduce costs and risks associated with innovation. It’s also meant to facilitate partnerships between schools and industry leaders in order to develop academic curricula that give students the knowledge they need to excel in today’s advanced manufacturing jobs.
The institutes complement each other’s capabilities and benefit from shared approaches to matters such as intellectual property, contract research, and performance metrics. While the institutes are regionally focused, the network is national, integrated, and dynamic, designed to foster innovation and deliver new capabilities that can stimulate the manufacturing sector on a large scale.
For more information on NNMI and the individual institutes, visit the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office’s website: www.manufacturing.gov.