President Obama announced late last week that the government will continue to invest in creating more Manufacturing Innovation Hubs.


At a meeting of the President’s Export Council (PEC), President Obama said the government will invest nearly $400 million to help improve the competitiveness of American businesses and workers by spurring new manufacturing innovations and giving America workers additional opportunities to improve and expand their skill sets for middle-class jobs. Of that amount, the President said more than $290 million in public-private investment will go toward two new Manufacturing Innovation Hub Competitions. Another $100 million will be used to expand apprenticeships for American workers.


Manufacturing institutes serve as a regional hub, bridging the gap between applied research and product development by bringing together companies, universities and other academic and training institutions—as well as federal agencies—to co-invest in key technology areas that encourage investment and production in the U.S. President Obama explained this type of “teaching factory” provides a unique opportunity for education and training of students and workers at all levels, while providing the shared assets to help small manufacturers and other companies access the cutting-edge capabilities and equipment to design, test and pilot new products and manufacturing processes.


The first institute is a Department of Defense-led Flexible Hybrid Electronics Manufacturing Innovation Institute. The DoD will lead a competition for a new public-private manufacturing innovation institute in flexible hybrid electronics, combining $75 million of federal investment with $75 million or more of private investment. Flexible hybrid electronics combine advanced materials that flex with thinned silicon chips to produce the next generation of electronic products, President Obama said. These include items as diverse as comfortable, wireless medical monitors, stretchable electronics for robotics and vehicles, and smart bridges capable of alerting engineers at the first signs of trouble.


The President went on to say that for the nation’s warfighters, these new technologies will make lifesaving advances and improve mission effectiveness. For example, intelligent bandages and smart clothing will alert soldiers to first signs of injury or exhaustion; structural integrity sensors will offer real-time damage assessment for helicopters or aircraft after engagement; and small, unattended sensors will give soldiers greater situational awareness.


The other manufacturing institute introduced last week is the Department of Energy-led Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute. President Obama explained that a third of the nation’s energy consumption goes into manufacturing. New smart manufacturing technologies—including advanced sensors and sophisticated process controls—can dramatically improve energy efficiency in manufacturing, saving manufacturers costs and conserving the nation’s energy. The Department of Energy will lead a competition for a new public-private manufacturing innovation institute focused on smart manufacturing, including advanced sensors, control, platforms and models for manufacturing. By combining manufacturing, digital and energy efficiency expertise, technologies developed by the institute will give American manufacturers unprecedented, real-time control of energy use across factories and companies may increase productivity and save on energy costs, President Obama said.


For energy intensive industries—such as chemical production, solar cell manufacturing and steelmaking—these technologies can shave 10 percent to 20 percent off the cost of production, President Obama said last week. The new institute will receive a federal investment of $70 million that will be matched by at least $70 million in private investments, and represents a critical step in the Administration’s effort to double U.S. energy efficiency by 2030.


What are your thoughts on these manufacturing innovation institutes, or others such as the Digital Lab for Manufacturing in Chicago and the Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Detroit? What impact do you believe they will have on future manufacturing and supply chains in the U.S.?