1 of 45: The first manufacturing innovation institute rises up in Raleigh

President Obama has announced the first of three manufacturing institutes designed to bring education and the manufacturing sector together through government funding and organization. North Carolina State University’s Centennial Campus in Raleigh will be the headquarters of the Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute and also will host at least some of the institute’s shared research and development facilities and testing equipment, not to mention programs designed for education and workforce development. It will be supported by $70 million over five years from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), along with a matching $70 million non-federal cost-share from the business and university members of the institute.

The institute is a consortium of businesses and universities focused on enabling energy-efficient, high-power electronic chips and devices. The emphasis is to make wide bandgap (WBG) semiconductor technologies as affordable as their silicon-based rivals.

While this first institute is funded primarily through DOE (http://energy.gov/articles/factsheet-next-generation-power-electronics-manufacturing-innovation-institute), the remaining two institutes, scheduled to be announced in the very near future, will be funded by the Defense Department, Commerce Department, NASA, and the National Science Foundation. One will be focused on digital manufacturing and design innovation, while the other will deal with lightweight and modern metals manufacturing. In all the federal government is committed to around $200 million for funding these institutes, which will act as regional hubs to bring together R&D efforts as part of a “teaching factory” for students and workers to design and test new processes and products.

The first institute includes many of the top WBG semiconductor manufacturers, materials providers, and users. Obama’s long-term vision is for 45 of these manufacturing innovation institutes, but the first step is always the hardest.

While silicon semiconductors changed the faces of computing, communications, and energy, they’ve approached their limitations in certain applications, making the way for WBG semiconductors to create power for everything from vehicles to VSD motors and to do it better.

In addition to being smaller, faster, and less expensive, WBG semiconductors have higher temperature tolerances and can operate at higher voltages and frequencies. The consortium led by NCSU includes 18 companies, including ABB, APEI, Avogy, Cree, Delphi, Delta Products, DfR Solutions, Gridbridge, Hesse Mechatronics, II-VI, IQE, John Deere, Monolith Semiconductor, RF Micro Devices, Toshiba International, Transphorm, USCi, and Vacon. Besides NCSU, the six additional universities and labs that are part of the institute include Arizona State University, Florida State University, University of California at Santa Barbara, Virginia Polytechnic Institute, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.