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Why the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation?

Why the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation?

Guest blog post by Barb Ewing, Chief Operating Officer for the Youngstown Business Incubator, and Scott Deutsch, Manager, Communications & Special Programs for the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining

Youngstown Business Incubator is home to the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (“America Makes”), the pilot program for the President’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation.

Too often, when we think about manufacturing, we think of large, multi-national corporations that once dominated the economic landscape.  However, as corporations continue to downsize and revamp operations, Small to Mid-sized enterprises (SMEs) are increasingly becoming the life blood of the nation’s manufacturing economy.

Large companies generally have the extra resources – both human and financial -to assume the risks associated with adopting new technologies. They view these investments as critical to becoming more efficient and flexible on a global scale. While the leadership at smaller firms may also recognize the potential benefits, limited technical expertise in house, challenges with their workforce and small (or nonexistent) capital budgets make it more difficult for SMEs to make those same kind of investments.

That’s where the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) can come into play. The NNMI are public private partnerships aimed at accelerating the development and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies for making new, globally competitive products.  Each institute in the network is an exciting new collaboration space for industry and academia to speed up innovation.  They are positioned to “bridge the gap” between basic research and industry needs.  The focus is to de-risk and scale up new materials and processes to solve the priority problems of industry.

By providing small firms with access to technical experts and allowing them to engage with other companies, universities and government entities on research projects, the NNMI will help to reduce the technical barriers to entry for SMEs.  Companies that previously would have had to make investment decisions in a vacuum can now discuss the pros and cons of different types of equipment, limitations on materials, the costs associated with ramp-up, or any other aspect of the adoption process.   NNMI is new, with just four pilot institutes established and four more in the pipeline.  The goal of an institute is to seed a regional manufacturing hub – AND have national impact.  The first pilot institute, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, was established in 2012 with a charter to advance technology on Additive Manufacturing (AM) or 3D Printing (3DP).  Also known as  “America Makes” this institute currently has a portfolio of more than 25 applied research projects with partners from large industry, academia, and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs).

Earlier this year, the Youngstown Business Incubator was awarded funding by America Makes to accelerate the adoption of AM technology within the forging industry.  By helping companies understand the design principles, material requirements, business model and production process – including the printing itself – the project helps to reduce the cost and risk associated with integrating the technology into existing metalcasting processes.  With AM technology, product design can be optimized for things like energy efficiency or weight reduction. Additionally, new product development can occur much faster and in lower volumes than through traditional manufacturing processes. 

Individually and together, these regional hubs will help to strengthen the global competitiveness of existing U.S. manufacturers, spur new ventures, and boost local and state economies.  While the NNMI is good for all businesses, it is particularly important to the future of small to medium enterprises.

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