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New executive director of DMDII plans to ‘take it all to the next level’

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing

CHICAGO–Chandra Brown, who is set to become the executive director of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) here on Sept. 26, plans to “build on the good work already started there,” she said yesterday.

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Chandra Brown is set to become the executive director of DMDII on Sept. 26.

The post has been open since May, when Thomas McDermott left to become director for category product performance at Wayfair in Boston.

A Chicago native who has lived on the West Coast for awhile, Brown said the DMDII has done “an incredible amount of work in just four years. It’s really unbelievable to me that they already have 60-plus applied R&D projects, millions of dollars that they’ve been putting out there.”

Her plan, she added, is to “take it all to the next level.”

“I’m an implementation person. They’ve gone through the startup phase, putting the building together, setting up the future factory floor, which is incredible. I want to grow it and take it the next step—into a fully formed operating company.”

At DMDII, Brown will be responsible for overseeing the institute’s research and development portfolio and fostering relationships with government and businesses to put newly-demonstrated capabilities into practice, the institute told the press.

Brown has more than 25 years of experience in manufacturing, federal policy-making, international trade and startup and small business management.

As deputy assistant secretary of manufacturing at the U.S. Department of Commerce from March 2013 to January 2016, she played a leadership role in the U.S. Manufacturing Council and other advisory councils that shaped national manufacturing policy, including the initiative that established the network of 14 Manufacturing USA institutes—of which DMDII is one, the institute said.

While at the Department of Commerce, Brown promoted U.S. businesses worldwide, worked to remove trade barriers and oversaw a portfolio of programs aimed at increasing the international competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers, DMDII said.

Brown was previously CEO and founder of Brown Executive Strategies, a consulting firm focused on helping small businesses increase their competitiveness. Prior to that, she was president of Green Endeavor Inc., a startup that helped industries replace harmful chemicals with more effective, affordable and greener alternatives.

Prior to her federal government appointment, she worked for 19 years at Oregon Iron Works, most recently as vice president and then CEO of its subsidiary, United Streetcar. United Streetcar was the first U.S. manufacturer to create a modern streetcar in more than 60 years, DMDII noted.

One funding question still open

DMDII is to some degree dependent on continued federal funding.

“We were initially funded with some large Department of Defense grants, and we’re super grateful for that,” Brown said yesterday. “Now, we have high confidence that we are going to continue to get the wonderful federal support from the DoD.”

Digital manufacturing is in the current defense appropriations conference report, she said, noting that it indicates members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agree funding is important going forward.

DMDII also has more than 300 partners in industry, academia and government. “So we’re not solely reliant on federal funding,” Brown said. “That’s just one very critical piece.”

Opened in 2014, DMDII helps “equip U.S. manufacturers with the digital tools and expertise needed to build every part better than the last and establish a more reliable, efficient and secure manufacturing capability,” the institute said.

“The U.S. is competing in a global race to realize the transformative potential of the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Caralynn Nowinski Collens, CEO of UI LABS, DMDII’s parent organization, said in prepared remarks. “With Chandra’s experience as a manufacturing leader, entrepreneur and policymaker, DMDII is more equipped than ever to deliver the solutions our partners need to win.”

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