CHICAGO—The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) is set to award $10 million in funding this year to the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) here, UI Labs CEO Caralynn Nowinski Collens, said this morning. UI Labs is DMDII’s parent organization.
DOD is also pledging at least $20 million more over the next five years to drive the digital future of manufacturing, she said.
“Since our founding, the opportunity and urgency to lead the charge to digitize U.S. manufacturing has only grown,” Nowinski Collens said. “It is essential for our national security and our prosperity that DMDII not just continue but ramp up its efforts to pull manufacturers into the modern era.”
Five-year-old DMDII is working with more than 300 partners, including Siemens, Rolls-Royce, Lockheed Martin and Dow Chemical, to enable U.S. manufacturers to make every part better than the last. That requires production lines to be embedded with software and sensors that connect to the Internet. Only with this ability to send and receive data can the equipment improve itself and learn from every part produced in real time, DMDII said.
Since its founding in 2014, DMDII has invested approximately $90 million in more than 60 applied research projects nationwide. DMDII is facilitating factory worker training using augmented reality, updating legacy machines for the digital age, and reducing error and scrap in high-value parts.
In one project, Lockheed Martin, Siemens, Rochester Institute of Technology and printed circuit board (PCB) designers and makers worked together to digitize the production process.
While PCBs have seen exponential decreases in size and increases in performance, the methods of transferring production data on them remain cumbersome and error-prone. This effort is paving the way for reshoring the PCB industry, DMDII said.
“Digital transformation is about reimagining the process by which we, as a community, turn ideas into solutions,” Jeff Wilcox, VP of digital transformation at Lockheed Martin, said in prepared remarks. “DMDII has created a model that makes it easy to partner in a collaborative ecosystem that enhances our nation’s manufacturing competitiveness.”
Another example is DMDII’s collaboration with the U.S. Army’s Rock Island Arsenal, the nation’s largest government-owned weapons maker. With the aim of getting equipment to U.S. warfighters faster, the arsenal and DMDII have used 3-D modeling to assess the arsenal’s manufacturing processes.
“American manufacturing must remain competitive since it underpins national and economic security,” Tracy Frost, the Pentagon’s director of the DoD Manufacturing Institutes and its Manufacturing Technology program, said. “The advanced manufacturing technology solutions being pioneered at DMDII strengthen the U.S. industrial base and supply chain resiliency to support our warfighters, and the Department of Defense is excited to continue to partner with the institute and watch it grow.”
DMDII is housed in a former window factory near downtown Chicago. It includes live examples of digitally enabled manufacturing processes: The McKinsey Digital Capability Center and DMDII’s future factory testbeds.
“We’re trying to take factories from the record player to the smartphone; it’s a huge leap,” DMDII Executive Director Chandra Brown said. “It’s known as the Internet of Things (IoT). We are the place to go to learn what’s next in industrial IoT, artificial intelligence and cybersecurity in manufacturing, as well as equip workers with the digital skills necessary to compete.”
Brown previously served as the CEO of a metal manufacturing firm and then deputy assistant secretary of manufacturing at the U.S. Commerce Department, where she helped envision the network of 14 manufacturing institutes that includes DMDII.
To remain competitive, manufacturers will need to combine the efficiency of mass production with clients’ demands for customization, DMDII said. In other words, they will need to be able to produce goods in smaller batches at competitive prices, which requires an extraordinary degree of precision that only machine learning and artificial intelligence can bring.
Today’s announcement drew U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), as well as Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
“Manufacturing is a critical part of the Illinois economy and we must maintain America’s competitive edge,” Durbin said.
“UI Labs helps our state and our nation achieve success on both fronts,” he added. “I’m pleased to help secure federal funding for DMDII in my role as Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense and to support this renewed partnership for a long time to come.”
“We’re going to help build the 21st Century economy and what it demands,” Pritzker said.
He spoke about “keeping Illinois on the forefront. “DMDII shows us the power of investing in the future,” he said. “A hearty congrats to DMDII on five successful years” so far.