White House announces $70M grant to UI LABS

EVL 2013-10-20-CAVE2-ISS-photo

The Electronic Visualization Laboratory, which creates projects like this visualization
of the International Space Station, will play a role in the new center. Photo: Lance Long/Electronic Visualization Laboratory

UI LABS, an initiative begun more than two years ago by the University of Illinois that draws on expertise from its three campuses, was awarded a $70 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to create Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, a research center in Chicago for digital manufacturing technology.

UIC’s role in the proposal focuses on its strengths in computer visualization and technical workforce development.

President Obama announced the investment Tuesday as part of his vision to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing by creating new jobs, encouraging economic development and spurring future innovation.

“This is a transformative opportunity to shape the future of American manufacturing,” said Warren Holtsberg, chairman of UI LABS.

The institute will apply cutting-edge mobile, cloud and high-performance computing technologies to manufacturing challenges, reducing costs through greater use of technology, from robotics to visualization.

UIC’s Electronic Visualization Laboratory and StarLight, an international research and education communications exchange facility for high-performance networks, are critical for the Blue Waters Peta-scale computing facility on the Urbana-Champaign campus in achieving the necessary speed links and capacity for digital manufacturing, said Mitra Dutta, vice chancellor for research.

The workforce development part of the project, Dutta said, is largely based on UIC’s Learning Sciences Research Institute and Project Lead the Way, a summer outreach program for high school teachers in the College of Engineering.

Similar programs may be developed as federal agencies push for greater competency in new manufacturing techniques among U.S. workers, she said.

UI LABS brings together industry, academic, government and community partners with more than 500 supporting companies and organizations to create the digital manufacturing institute.

Leading industry partners include General Electric, Rolls-Royce, Procter & Gamble, Dow, Lockheed Martin and Siemens.

“We are grateful for the backing of our many industry and community partners as well as the bipartisan support from federal, state and local officials across the U.S.,” said UI LABS interim executive director Caralynn Nowinski, who earned an MD and MBA at UIC.

UI LABS raised more than $250 million in additional funds in its bid for the center, including $16 million from the State of Illinois.

“This new digital lab has the potential to revolutionize the way the United States approaches manufacturing, and a major effort will be centered in Illinois,” said Sen. Dick Durbin.

“My favorite words are ‘made in America’ and ‘made in Illinois,’ and this partnership will create high-tech manufacturing jobs across both our state and nation for years to come,” said Gov. Pat Quinn.

“This solidifies Chicago’s place as the epicenter of the digital manufacturing revolution that will create thousands of jobs here and make our city the place where the greatest 21st century innovations are born,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

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