The $148-million high-tech manufacturing research institute set to open this spring in metro Detroit is expected to bring 10,000 jobs to the region within the next five years.
The American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMMII), announced by the White House Feb. 22, will be led by the University of Michigan, Ohio-based manufacturing technology nonprofit EWI, and The Ohio State University. More than 50 other companies, universities, and nonprofits from around the country also will be involved in the public-private partnership. Its main office will be in Canton, Mich., with key support in Columbus, Ohio.
The institute is designed to establish an ecosystem to support the production of advanced lightweight metals in a part of the country that’s often considered the historic seat of American manufacturing. It will enable research and development projects as well as education and training programs to prepare the workforce. It is expected to have both national and regional impacts.
“Through this initiative, our region will build on its core strengths to become the nation’s technology hub for lightweight materials and manufacturing,” says U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. “Companies from around the country will come here not only because of our technological capabilities, but also because we have the workforce they need in their efforts to revitalize and transform domestic manufacturing.”
Transforming the supply chain
ALMMII is charged with moving cutting-edge lightweight metals out of the research lab and into tomorrow’s cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships for both the commercial and military sectors. Lighter vehicles for the military, industry, and consumers, alike, have better performance and use less fuel. They can carry larger loads and travel the same distances at lower cost and with fewer carbon emissions.
The institute’s efforts will encompass the entire transportation supply chain, nurturing innovations from conception through design, development, and production. It will contract more than $100 million in R&D projects with partner organizations. And by establishing science, technology, and engineering curricula for programs in grade school to graduate school, the institute will help educate the next generation of manufacturing operators and engineers.
Most of the 10,000 jobs it’s expected to create will be in the metal stamping, metalworking, machining, and casting industries that are dominant in the Midwest region. It will aim to add 100 more metal-related engineering professionals per year and 1,000 more skilled trade workers. Within three years, it should be offering advanced training to an additional 1,000 current employees per year.
“A vision of the institute is to prepare an eager workforce and equip them with 21st-century advanced manufacturing skills,” says Lawrence Brown, executive director of the institute and director of government technology programs at EWI. “Through the integration of the region’s workforce, education, and economic development assets, the institute will enable the availability of job-ready employees and maximize the transition of emerging technologies to small, medium, and large firms in the region and across the nation.”
Many of the materials for weight reduction already exist, such as high-strength steels, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium, says Alan Taub, U-M professor of materials science and chief technology officer of the new institute.
“The challenge is in optimizing component designs and developing the advanced processes to manufacture them robustly on a large scale at affordable cost,” Taub says. “And each material needs its own tailored process.”
Bridging the innovation gap
The institute will be the newest node in the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation, a White House initiative to help U.S. manufacturers become more competitive. U-M faculty played pivotal roles in helping to conceive and shape this network.
Sridhar Kota, the Herrick Professor of Engineering, held an appointment as assistant director for advanced manufacturing at the White House from 2009-12. He proposed the idea of so-called Edison Institutes to bridge the “innovation gap” between basic research and manufacturing-readiness. The rationale behind manufacturing innovation institutes was articulated in the 2011 Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing. Kota helped create Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership in 2011 to move the network forward.President Coleman and engineering professor Jack Hu, now U-M’s interim vice president for research, served on a working group of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.
“These new institutes will help put the ‘&’ back in R&D in order to get a better return on investment of taxpayers’ dollars,” Kota says. “We need them to undertake precompetitive translational research to mature emerging technologies before industry can adopt and perfect them to create next-generation products. Such translational research must be co-funded by the public sector and the private sector.”
The American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute is funded through the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) program. It was selected through a competitive process led by the U.S. Department of Defense, and will receive $70 million in federal funding over five years, matched by another $78 million from the consortium partners themselves. The funding includes $10 million from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and additional dollars from the state of Ohio.
Top image: Jeong-Seop Yoon, ME/MSE student, tests the tensile strength of a piece of aluminum alloy in the S.M. Wu Manufacturing Research Center. Photo: Joseph Xu, Michigan Engineering Communications & Marketing.