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$320M National Manufacturing Lab Announced by White House

Iowa State University is a top-tier partner in a new Digital Lab for Manufacturing to be based in Chicago with affiliated partners across the country.

by Iowa State University
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Students, left to right, Leif Berg, Meisha Rosenberg and Ryan Pavlik assemble parts in a virtual factory created by Iowa State's METaL virtual reality facility.Photo credit: Bob ElbertPresident Barack Obama today (Feb. 25) announced a $70 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to support creation of the lab by UI LABS, a Chicago-based research and commercialization collaborative. In addition to the defense grant, industry, academic, government and community partners have pledged $250 million for the lab, creating a $320 million enterprise.

Iowa State will be a tier 1 partner of the Digital Lab and will conduct research through grants and projects awarded to Iowa State researchers.

“The Digital Lab for Manufacturing is expected to bring significant resources to Iowa State and greatly enable our research programs in these key areas of advanced manufacturing and the emerging economy," said Iowa State President Steven Leath.

The Digital Lab is designed to be the country’s flagship research institute for digital manufacturing and design innovation. The idea is to apply computing and data analysis to improve manufacturing machines and factories. The lab will focus on three technical areas: advanced analysis, intelligent machining and advanced manufacturing enterprise.

As a top-tier partner in the Digital Lab, Iowa State will have seats on lab boards and committees, giving the university a voice in the lab’s operations and funding decisions. Iowa State also provides the lab with expertise and resources from three university centers: the Center for e-Design, the Virtual Reality Applications Center and the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation.

Janis Terpenny, the director of the Center for e-Design and Iowa State’s Joseph Walkup Professor and Department Chair of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering, is expected to provide technical leadership for the Digital Lab’s work in advanced manufacturing.

“We are pleased to share our expertise with UI LABS, industry, fellow researchers and educators from around the nation in the new Digital Lab,” Terpenny said. “This is public-private partnership on a grand scale; one capable of providing the significant resources and talents to advance research, effect change for manufacturers large and small, and prepare the next generation for the multi-faceted demands for a new type of workforce.”

Sarah Rajala, the dean of Iowa State’s College of Engineering and James and Katherine Melsa Professor of Engineering, said, “We are very excited about the opportunity to collaborate with an outstanding team of industry, government and academic partners to advance the field of advanced manufacturing and design innovation, and to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing.”

Advanced manufacturing is one of Iowa’s largest industries, contributing $28 billion annually to the state economy. Iowa State works closely with industry, community leaders and educators across the state through partnerships with National Science Foundation Industry/University Cooperative Research Centers such as the Center for e-Design and the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation as well as Iowa State’s Center for Industrial Research and Service, the Iowa Innovation Council and education programs in science, technology, engineering and math.