An effort is underway to create a manufacturing technology institute focused on smart manufacturing that would be based in Southeast Wisconsin.

A subcommittee of the Milwaukee 7, an economic development group focused on the seven counties in Southeast Wisconsin, is weighing whether to submit a proposal for a research hub that would be part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).

Hubs established through national competition conducted at the behest of President Barack Obama already exist in Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit; Chicago; Raleigh, N.C.; and Knoxville, Tenn.

The institutes serve a highly important purpose for manufactures throughout the country, including Wisconsin, which has one of the nation’s highest-concentration of manufacturers.

“They are important because they serve as lightning rods that attract discussion around key issues in manufacturing,” said Buckley Brinkman, CEO and executive director of the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership.


The centers also minimize duplicate research tied to the industry, he said. “Anyone is able to tap into these resources,” Brinkman proclaimed.

Milwaukee 7 Executive Director Pat O’Brien said a “scout team” has been assembled to weigh whether federal funding should be sought for a smart manufacturing institute.

“We’re trying to understand the need and what opportunities there are for funding,” O’Brien said.

The NNMI is intended to create a competitive, effective, and sustainable manufacturing research-to-manufacturing infrastructure for U.S. industry and academia to solve industry-relevant problem.

As sustainable manufacturing innovation hubs, the institutes are set up to:

• Develop advanced manufacturing technologies that will “lift all ships,” creating, showcasing and deploying new capabilities that can increase commercial productivity.
• Help businesses who otherwise couldn’t invest in advanced manufacturing research by bringing together the best talents and capabilities from the public and private sector into a proving ground for cutting-edge technology.
• Build a pipeline of talent that can support advanced manufacturing.

If federal funds are secured, a consortium of private industry and academic institutions would need to be formed and funding would have to be secured to match the $70 million the institute would receive over five years from the federal government.

“It’s going to take a private-public partnership,” O’Brien said.

The committee is working to determine whether a smart manufacturing center would consist of a “bricks and mortar” operation or operate as a “virtual” site with programming offered via the Internet, he said.

A center focused on smart manufacturing would be tied to several industrial arenas, including energy and smart grids; connected enterprise; and digital manufacturing.

Having a center in Wisconsin would “bring a lot of attention and resources that would be made available to our state first,” Brinkman said.

In addition to the Milwaukee 7 and the WMEP, key players in the initiative include Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation, a provider of factory automation; the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

“We are trying to move from the theoretical to the practical,” Brinkman said.

A smart manufacturing center in Wisconsin “could transform how manufacturing is being done,” including aspects such as allowing remote monitoring of distant factory equipment, Brinkman stated.

President Obama created the NNMI, which works with the National Institute of Standards on a network of manufacturing hubs that receive government funding and private-matching funds. The network connects with colleges and universities to educate and train workers in technology.

The research hubs are just getting off the ground. The White House has said it plans to add three more institutes, including one dedicated to smart manufacturing, in the near future.

The White House was expected to announce a federal funding opportunity for a smart manufacturing institute as early as February, but the congressional budget process has delayed matters.

Having a NNMI in Southeast Wisconsin would be a “grand-slam home run” but a more regionally focused center would remain a possibility if federal funding isn’t secured, O’Brien said.


There are currently 5 National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Institute centers including:

Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute, Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow, PowerAmerica, and America Makes. The following summary of the five existing centers was compiled by John Schmid and appeared in the June 6th, 2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Meant to help make U.S. manufacturing industries more competitive, the White House has created a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation institutes. Five have been launched and three are awaiting announcements for national competitions for a consortium to found them.

■ Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation
Location: Knoxville, Tenn.
Focus: Applied research on advanced fiber-reinforced composite materials
Partner: Department of Energy
Funding: Federal, $70 million; matching, $180 million

■ Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute
Location: Chicago
Focus: Digital engineering, design and manufacturing
Partner: Department of Defense
Funding: Federal, $70 million; matching, $106 million

 Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT)
Location: Detroit
Focus: Development of lightweight alloys, materials and metal foams that are vital for automotive and products with fuel economy
Partner: Department of Defense
Funding: Federal, $70 million; matching, $78 million

■ PowerAmerica
Location: Raleigh, N.C.
Focus: Design and built a new class of high-performance semiconductors
Partner: Department of Energy
Funding: Federal, $70 million; matching, $70 million

■ America Makes
Location: Youngstown, Ohio
Focus: Additive manufacturing (3-D printing)
Partner: Department of Defense
Funding: Federal, $50 million; matching, $39 million

Source: White House; Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office; as reported by John Schmid in the June 6th, 2015 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel