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APLU, NIST Announce New Research Partnerships to Fuel U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness

Washington, D.C.— Seeking to help bolster U.S. manufacturing competitiveness, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) today announced three grants to explore how public universities can develop and scale partnerships with Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) Centers to increase the capacity of small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) to adopt technologies key for their success. These grants are made possible as part of a research grant APLU received from the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST).

“We know technology adoption is critical for the success and long-term sustainability of small and medium-sized manufacturers. Yet barriers to uptake of new technologies still force too many manufacturers out of business,” said Sheila Martin, Vice President for Economic and Community Engagement at APLU. “We’re excited these public universities, MEP Centers, and private sector partners are stepping up to find new models for increased success. We hope to not only find new approaches for success in these regions, but new models that can be emulated, modified, and scaled to promote U.S. manufacturing competitiveness across the country.”

“Universities are an important source of technology innovation that can serve to strengthen and empower U.S. manufacturers in partnership with the MEP National NetworkTM” said MEP Deputy Director Rob Ivester. “We hope this project will demonstrate how universities, working together with their local MEP Centers, can facilitate connections and technical assistance to small and medium-sized manufacturers, increasing their capacity to develop and scale partnerships to adopt the technologies needed to succeed in Industry 4.0.”

The selected universities and MEP Centers will receive seed funding to develop a partnership for offering technology adoption services at SMMs with which they work. The partners were selected through a competitive process, which included review by a set of manufacturing technology experts.

The funds will help support activities including: developing processes for identifying manufacturers that would stand to benefit most from partnerships; targeting and providing resources for manufacturers; matching manufacturers with faculty and students; adjusting policies to facilitate deeper, more productive collaboration; and developing agreements for ongoing partnership; among other areas.

Background on partnerships receiving funding:

Northern Illinois University/Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center
SMMs typically lack the resources to develop and adopt so-called Industry 4.0 technologies to strengthen and maintain national and international competitiveness in a cost-effective manner. These smart technologies such as internet of things machines are key to boosting productivity. In response to this challenge, Northern Illinois University will strengthen and expand the current applied learning model in its College of Engineering and Engineering Technology with a dedicated professor of practice in manufacturing. The professor will serve as a vital link between the SMMs and the engineering teams in the university’s multi-disciplinary senior design program. The new position will work hand-in-hand with Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center (IMEC), the MEP Center in Illinois, to assess the needs of SMMs and to ensure long term assistance with implementation and optimization of technology adoption.

Ohio University/Ohio MEP Southeast
Ohio University and the Ohio MEP southeast, operated by the OSU South Centers (part of Ohio MEP), will establish a partnership to support SMMs. The effort will address challenges they must overcome while implementing new technologies such as robotics and automated systems used for factory automation through a talent development model using Industry 4.0 digital tools. The Appalachian Ohio Manufacturer’s Coalition (AOMC), Washington State Community College, and Building Bridges to Careers are supporting the partnership. The effort will create a foundation for stronger regional collaboration with an initial group of educational and non‐profit institutions engaged with the regional MEP program.

University of Louisville/Advantage Kentucky Alliance
The University of Louisville will form a new partnership with Advantage Kentucky Alliance (AKA), the MEP Center in Kentucky, to create and test the Accelerated Innovative Manufacturing with 3D Printing (AIM-3DP) program. The AIM-3DP program will target and engage with SMMs in the automotive and aerospace sectors in Kentucky that can benefit from the adoption of the 3D printing technology with business and technical assistance from the AIM-3DP program. The University of Louisville-AKA team will form a pilot partnership leveraging U of L’s established framework on 3DP technical assistance and AKA’s experience with business coaching and sales support to test a new partnership using data-informed strategies to enhance the SMM competitiveness.

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