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Viewpoints: NNMI: A New Place for Advancing Manufacturing


 Michael F. Molnar








 By Michael F. Molnar, FSME, CMfgE, PE
Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office
SME Past President

Additive manufacturing has captured popular attention now that retailers are selling low-cost 3D printers. There is a perception that additive manufacturing simply appeared in the past two years, yet the technology has been under development for nearly 30 years—a timeline that is about average for a process or new material to mature from laboratory to production.

Additive manufacturing today is an exciting transformative technology for producing commercial products (rather than prototypes) and also for opening up new uses and markets. Moreover, for each of these transformative success stories there are a thousand other manufacturing process technologies or amazing materials struggling to cross the proverbial “valley of death.”

Is there a way to bridge this gap for more technologies, and make them ready for use by manufacturers more quickly? This is exactly the purpose of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, or NNMI.

NNMI is a public-private partnership to create a new innovation space for US manufacturers. It is where industry and academia can collaborate to solve industry-relevant problems. NNMI began as a top recommendation of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology or PCAST. These senior private-sector leaders—university presidents and CEOs—aided by broad public input called for the federal government to catalyze institutes “to foster regional ecosystems in advanced manufacturing technologies.”


A Focused Mission

NNMI institutes, each run by an industry-led consortium, have two main activities: applied research and workforce skills.

On research: The key is focus on bridging the “valley of death” gap; applied research to de-risk and scale-up technologies discovered from basic research at universities and national labs. Institutes provide the neutral convening ground for collaboration. The activities are still “pre-competitive”; product commercialization happens in industry so even direct competitors can collaborate on issues that no single company can solve by themselves. An important design characteristic is to have the critical mass for real impact. This is why each institute has a unique charter topic that will have national impact. These are not to be small academic centers writing papers, but significant innovation institutes with a user facility that provides value to industry.


Read Manufacturing Engineering’s

Special Report about the National

Network for Manufacturing Innovation

online at


On workforce: The key is collaboration with educational partners, including research universities and community colleges, to develop the workforce training for these emerging technologies. This addresses one of the top issues faced by manufacturers that limits growth: gaps in workforce skills in advanced manufacturing. Institutes leverage regional and national organizations for outreach—particularly the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) network—to help build the skills necessary for establishing critical new supply chains in the US.

Ambitions for the Future

This dual research/workforce design was based on a year of study and public workshops with industry and academia, then validated by real-life experiential learning with pilot institutes. The first pilot institute, America Makes, was established in late 2012 with a focus of making additive manufacturing a reliable and low-cost technology for manufacturers.

Since then eight more institutes are established or underway. With broadly bipartisan Congressional authorization there are plans for a strong network plus new open topics competitions—where any topic proposed by industry can be considered for establishing an institute. The planning goal is to have a network of 45 institutes in 10 years.

So why consider being a part of NNMI? Consider joining an institute to enhance your global competitiveness, by learning and leveraging these disruptive innovations for your business. Institutes bring together the best talents and capabilities from all the partners to build the proving grounds where innovations flourish. As PCAST noted, the best means of sustaining innovation leadership is a strong and growing advanced manufacturing sector. NNMI helps you to invent here, make here and sell everywhere.

This article was first published in the June 2015 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF


Read More about the NNMI here:


Published Date : 6/1/2015

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