In a 2006 ad for Direct TV HD, Jessica Simpson (as Daisy Duke) explained, “It’s broadcast in 1080i. I totally don’t know what that means, but I want it”. (If you’re a fan of Jessica Simpson, my apologies. If you’re not a fan of Jessica Simpson, my deeper apologies).
Like Jessica, many people around the country, if they are honest, probably have the same view about DMDI (Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation), and other advanced manufacturing initiatives being driven by the federal government. We really don’t know what they mean and what they are, but we know we want them.
Since Colorado has been named as a partner in the DMDI consortium led by the University of Illinois let me try to explain what I think it means, and at the least put things into context nationally, for Colorado, and for the state’s manufacturing community.
Let’s answer the obvious questions first. No, this is not a plan that has money flowing from DMDI coffers to individual manufacturers to develop advanced manufacturing techniques. That’s not how this game is played. Yes, there is ample opportunity for individual manufacturers to participate in the research and development that will go on as part of the DMDI efforts. More on that later. Yes, this is likely a good thing for the State and for manufacturers. We just need to figure out how that is.
Starting at the top, President Obama in March 2012 proposed a “National Network for Manufacturing Innovation”. This network would be be a collection of “Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation”, funded by the Feds (roughly $140M+ per institute), matched by state governments, manufacturers, and public and private institutions (another $140M+ per institute). Each of these institutes would focus on an area of advanced manufacturing, such as Additive Manufacturing or Digital Manufacturing and Design. So that’s what they are. What they would do and how they would operate is largely left up to the groups winning the designation as an Institute. The Institutes will be responsible for defining, building, and creating research and new technologies in each of these areas.
In early 2013, the solicitation went out for DMDI proposals. Colorado submitted a concept paper for the DMDI, but was not chosen to take the next step and prepare a full proposal. The State then reached out, with the University of Colorado, to the University of Illinois (who had been accepted for the next proposal phase) to be one of the many partners in the Illinois DMDI proposal. (Full disclosure…CAMT is also working with Illinois, and has committed cash and resources to supporting the DMDI effort). Illinois was chosen as the DMDI institute to lead the overall effort, meaning that CU-Boulder and Colorado manufacturers would have a role to play.
As part of the DMDI, CU-Boulder will establish a “cyber physical systems” research center, focused on things such as how networked, data-driven physical systems (like highly interconnected, sensor-enabled, internet connected manufacturing facilities) will operate in the future. The center will be funded by $1M/year for 5 years from the State as an “infrastructure grant” from the Advanced Industries Accelerator program, assuming that the $1M per year is matched by the Federal Government. (That assumption is yet to be worked out with Illinois and the Feds. As a senior CU person remarked, as reported by the Boulder Daily Camera, "Quite frankly, at this point, everyone can claim success, but nobody knows how much money they will receive from the federal government.")
Which brings us to the meaning of life, or at least life as defined for Colorado manufacturers and what DMDI means for them. A key piece of NNMI direction involves manufacturers in research, development, testing, and implementation of the “stuff” that comes out of an institute. CAMT, along with CU and the State, is committed to bringing the manufacturing community into these efforts. DMDI and CU will provide research and intellectual firepower, with manufacturers bringing the innovative thinking of how that research can apply to the actual manufacturing process. If a manufacturer wants to get involved in this effort, there will be pathways to do that. Again, we don’t know exactly how, but that will come.
I’m still with Jessica on this…I really don’t know exactly what this is and how it will play out, but we probably want it. While still somewhat undefined, this is a great opportunity for Colorado and the Colorado manufacturing community, and I encourage you to follow these developments and get involved.
For more “official” information: