The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) announced today that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded $10 million in funding this year and is pledging at least $20 million more over the next five years to drive the digital future of manufacturing.
This award is part of a multi-year, follow-on agreement with a ceiling of $60 million of government funding.
“Since our founding, the opportunity and urgency to lead the charge to digitize U.S. manufacturing has only grown,” said Caralynn Nowinski Collens, CEO of UI LABS, DMDII’s parent organization. “It is essential for our national security and our prosperity that DMDII ramp up its efforts to pull manufacturers into the modern era.”
DMDII’s mission is 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.
It is a goal far too big for any one company to solve on its own, which is why the Institute has attracted more than 300 partners, including Dow Chemical, Lockheed Martin, Rolls-Royce, Siemens, and McKinsey & Company.
"Manufacturing is a critical part of the Illinois economy and we must maintain America's competitive edge," U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. "UI LABS helps our state and our nation achieve success on both fronts. 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."
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 high-impact project, Lockheed Martin partnered with Siemens, Rochester Institute of Technology and printed circuit board (PCB) manufacturers and designers 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 in the PCB industry.
“Digital transformation is about reimagining the process by which we, as a community, turn ideas into solutions,” said Jeff Wilcox, vice president of digital transformation at Lockheed Martin. “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 manufacturer. 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,” said Tracy Frost, the Pentagon’s director of the DoD Manufacturing Institutes and its Manufacturing Technology program. “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.”
The institute is based in a former window factory on Goose Island near downtown Chicago. On site is the McKinsey Digital Capability Center and DMDII’s future factory testbeds. Both are live examples of digitally enabled manufacturing processes.
“We’re trying to take factories from the record player to the smartphone; it’s a huge leap,” said Chandra Brown, DMDII’s executive director. “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 was CEO of a metal manufacturing company and then deputy assistant secretary of manufacturing at the U.S. Commerce Department, where she helped envision the nationwide 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. 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.
“I’m proud that Chicago remains at the forefront of the smart manufacturing revolution,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “It speaks volumes for this city — our entrepreneurs, technologists, business leaders — that the Department of Defense is again turning to DMDII and Chicago to lead the way.”