WASHINGTON — The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State University are among the academic partners in a new $320 million manufacturing lab announced Tuesday by President Barack Obama.
The Chicago-based Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute will be powered by a consortium of more than 40 companies, 23 universities and nearly 200 small businesses. The Defense Department is contributing $70 million to the enterprise, with states and businesses raising the other $250 million.
A second institute will be located in Michigan. Both are part of a broader effort to bolster American innovation through regional hubs.
The Chicago lab will focus on using technology to help manufacturers turn ideas into products faster and cheaper — an important factor in determining whether the United States will come out ahead in the global manufacturing competitions of the future.
“Manufacturers who can adapt, retool, get something out, change for a particular spec of a particular customer, they're going to win the competition every time,” Obama said in announcing the new centers from the White House's East Room.
Obama noted that America's middle class was hurt when the country lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs during the decade of the 2000s. While the sector has rebounded lately, Obama said it will take new techniques to continue that trend.
The new regional hubs will link researchers and business leaders.
The 23 universities involved in the Chicago lab are located predominantly in the Midwest, with many in Illinois. The list includes most of the Big 10 universities, as well as smaller schools such as Northern Iowa University.
Nebraska officials hailed the announcement, saying it will allow their researchers to work with colleagues at other schools, industry leaders and government agencies.
Timothy Wei, dean of Nebraska's College of Engineering, said in a press release that more than a dozen of his faculty members could be involved with the consortium to start.
“Our level of success depends on how well we compete and collaborate within this consortium,” Wei said. “With our growth initiative in Omaha and Lincoln tied to industries across the state, this kind of opportunity helps us attract top-flight faculty and strengthen our research and education programs.”
Iowa State University said that it will be a top-tier partner for the lab, conducting research through grants.
“The digital lab for manufacturing is expected to bring significant resources to Iowa State and greatly enable our research programs in these key areas of advanced manufacturing and the emerging economy,” Iowa State President Steven Leath said in a press release.