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UW-Madison a partner in national effort to retool U.S. manufacturing

February 25, 2014 By Renee Meiller

Laser cutting metal

Technology is a key part of the manufacturing process, as shown by this laser cutting sheet metal. Now, UW–Madison is partnering in an initiative to apply and advance technology to strengthen American manufacturing competitiveness.

Contributing expertise in such areas as advanced manufacturing, controls and high-performance computing, the University of Wisconsin–Madison will play a key role in a $320 million initiative to create and apply cutting-edge technologies to advance U.S. global competitiveness in manufacturing.

Funded with $70 million from the U.S. Department of Defense, the newly formed Digital Lab for Manufacturing will develop an innovative suite of digital tools that will enhance the efficiency and lower the cost of manufactured products, from conception to production.

UW-Madison is a research partner with the Digital Lab, which will be the nation’s flagship research institute for digital manufacturing and design innovation. The investment is part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s vision to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing through an initiative called the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The president formally awarded funding for the Digital Lab to Chicago-based UI LABS during a White House ceremony on Tuesday, Feb. 25.

In addition to its governmental support, the Digital Lab also leverages funding commitments of $250 million from more than 70 partners from academia, industry, government and the community.

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says the initiative will benefit residents of Wisconsin and beyond.

“As a major employment sector in Wisconsin, manufacturing will continue to be a critical driver in our state’s economic future,” she says. “Through its partnership with the Digital Lab, UW–Madison will provide unique expertise to help ensure our state and national manufacturing industries remain competitive for generations to come.”

Led by Lih-Sheng (Tom) Turng, a UW–Madison professor of mechanical engineering and theme leader at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the UW–Madison team includes experts in advanced manufacturing, intelligent machines, and advanced analysis from fields ranging from engineering to computer sciences.

While each group of experts will have a specific focus-for example, supply-chain challenges with high-variety or custom-engineered products; smart sensors, controls, analysis and other tools for self-aware manufacturing; or computer-aided product design, automation, modeling, simulation and manufacturing-the UW–Madison researchers’ overall goal is to contribute to a secure, seamless platform for using and sharing digital manufacturing data.

Ian Robertson

Ian Robertson

“This initiative will enable us to leverage existing UW–Madison technology-transfer resources in ways that allow us to address a critical national challenge,” says Ian Robertson, UW–Madison College of Engineering dean. “The Digital Lab is an important link between our leading-edge research and the companies and industries across the manufacturing spectrum that will benefit from these innovations.”

Digital manufacturing has the potential to create thousands of high-quality jobs in advanced manufacturing fields in Wisconsin and throughout the country. In Wisconsin, nearly a quarter of state residents work in the manufacturing industry.

“Manufacturing is a key driver of and a vital component of Wisconsin’s economy, and digital manufacturing will boost small, medium and major Wisconsin companies,” says Turng.

He adds: “The university’s role, through the Wisconsin Idea, is that what we do should eventually benefit the state of Wisconsin and its companies. It’s been a pleasure, honor and a privilege to work with so many dedicated colleagues on this proposal.”