UI Labs wins $70 million grant for manufacturing institute

UI Labs wins $70 million grant for manufacturing institute

CHICAGO — UI Labs, a nonprofit research and development organization led by the University of Illinois, has landed a major federal grant that promises to spur innovation and rebuild manufacturing in the Midwest.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said on Saturday that UI Labs will receive a $70 million grant for the new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute. It will be based in Chicago.

UI Labs beat out proposals from the East Coast and South for the institute. Key the proposal was showing support from private industry. Proposers had to raise the same amount of the grant — $70 million — from industry. The UI Labs-led consortium not only include several Midwestern universities, such as Northwestern University, Purdue University and Indiana University, but companies, cities and other partners.

The group boasts 750 partners, with commitments totalling $250 million, according to a release from Sen. Durbin’s office.

“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,” Durbin said in the release.

“Partners from across the state including the Quad Cities Manufacturing Laboratory, the Blue Waters Supercomputer at the University of Illinois ... will be at the forefront of innovative, industry-driven research that will make America more competitive on the global stage. Illinois will undoubtedly benefit from the thousands of jobs created through this research,” he said.

The digital manufacturing grant is led by the Department of Defense, and will focus on building digitally-integrated tools that can be networked with supply chains. Researchers could develop virtual manufacturing tools, robotics-based manufacturing networks and more.

The lab will be one of many envisioned for around the country.

In 2012 President Obama announced plans to establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which calls for up to 15 different public-private institutes located around the country to drive innovation in manufacturing. Youngstown, Ohio, was chosen last year to be the first hub. The federal government solicited proposals for several others, including the digital lab, last year.

UI Labs submitted the competitive proposal over the summer and officials have been anxiously awaiting the decision. The decision was originally expected earlier this fall but was delayed due to the federal government shutdown.

This will be the second major initiative for UI Labs. The university, state economic development office and UI Labs launched the Illinois Manufacturing Laboratory in December. That statewide initiative has a similar goal: to spark advancement in the manufacturing sector. The program involves researchers and project managers working with 10 different companies around the state to help them steamline their processes of making everything from gasoline additives to garage-door openers.