UI, state officials to unveil plans to boost manufacturing
CHICAGO — University and state officials on Friday are expected to unveil additional details about plans under way to boost innovation in Illinois manufacturing.
The University of Illinois and the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity are close to launching the Illinois Manufacturing Laboratory, a Chicago-area entity that would be a home for research and development of manufacturing technology and offer workforce training in new tools and software.
Gov. Pat Quinn, in his February "State of the State" address, pledged $5 million of state money for the initiative. That money has not been released yet, but is expected to be soon.
Officials declined to comment Wednesday, but additional information, such as possible pilot projects for the laboratory, will be released Friday.
Earlier this year, UI administrators involved in the planning of the project said the manufacturing lab would involve the Urbana and Chicago campuses, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, the UI's Business and Industry Services in Naperville, and other university units.
On Friday afternoon, university trustees will meet on the College of Pharmacy campus to hear updates on several of the university's major economic development initiatives, including the Illinois Manufacturing Laboratory, UI Labs and others.
UI Labs is the ambitious research and development lab also envisioned for Chicago and would involve faculty from the Urbana and Chicago campuses. UI Labs would tap into UI strengths in engineering and technology, involve partnerships with private companies and other universities, and compete for major grants. Earlier this fall, UI Labs submitted its bid for a $70 million competitive grant in digital manufacturing and design from the federal government.
The Illinois Manufacturing Laboratory is a separate, state-focused program, but shares a similar goal with the federal initiative of encouraging innovation in manufacturing, which accounts for 12.4 percent of the state's gross domestic product.
It is not yet clear if the Illinois Manufacturing Laboratory will be part of UI Labs or its own separate entity. Earlier this year, UI Labs filed incorporation papers, named three board members, and submitted its grant proposal. Compared with the manufacturing lab, the vision for UI Labs is more broad in scope and size, with an anticipated $100 million research portfolio and the goal of employing hundreds of scientists and students.
What is clear is the push behind both entities to partner with private companies.
Larry Schook, the UI's Vice President for Research and a board member of UI Labs, said he plans to review with trustees on Friday the enormous public investment over the last 10 to 15 years in the university's infrastructure, such as the Institute for Genomic Biology (which was built, and whose daily operations are funded, by the state).
"Now it's time for private-public partnerships," he said, "which I think is the real future."
As an example, he pointed to the requirement that applicants for the $70 million federal grant raise matching funds among industry and other partners.
The message from the federal government, Schook said, is that in order for researchers to help solve the grand challenges faced by industry, they must work closely with industry.
The $70 million grant is part of President Obama's "We Can't Wait" initiative. The "National Network for Manufacturing Innovation" plan calls for up to 15 different institutes around the country to drive innovation in manufacturing. Youngstown, Ohio, was chosen to be the first hub. Three additional institutes are planned, including one in digital manufacturing and design innovation.
The digital manufacturing and design innovation project is led by the Department of Defense and will focus on building digitally-integrated tools that are networked with the supply chain. The UI submitted its proposal earlier this fall. Because the proposals are currently being reviewed by federal agencies, Schook declined to discuss specifics about the UI Labs proposal, including which private industry partners signed letters of support.