A $70 million federal grant will help position Chicago as a national hub for digital manufacturing and bring cutting-edge research and innovation opportunities to the Northwestern community.


The grant was awarded to UI LABS, a Chicago-based consortium of researchers that includes Northwestern faculty. The government funds will be matched by contributions from more than 500 companies, organizations, and academic, government, and community partners that worked together to bring the opportunity to Chicago.


Northwestern was one of the founding partners in the initiative, which is regionally anchored in the Midwest but also has partners in states throughout the country.


“Once again, Northwestern is playing a significant role in a large consortium that is based in Illinois but with national collaborators,” said Jay Walsh, vice president for research at Northwestern. “We worked closely with the UI LABS-led team in developing the winning proposal. This now-funded grant will give our faculty and students tremendous opportunities to advance design and manufacturing via partnerships both with academic peers and — importantly — with a set of industrial partners whose products and processes have impact broadly across society.”


The goal of the five-year, US Department of Defense (DoD) grant, announced Feb. 25 by President Barack Obama at a White House ceremony, is to reinvigorate US manufacturing, create new jobs and economic development, and spur future innovation through the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DMDI) Institute.


Combined with an expected $250 million in additional funding from 40 industry partners and some 30 academic, government, and community partners, including 23 universities, the project will fund a DMDI institute with $320 million in all.


The research for this project will be centered at a new space called the Digital Lab, under the direction of UI LABS. The Digital Lab will be the nation’s flagship research institute for digital manufacturing and design innovation, applying cutting-edge technologies to reduce the time and cost of manufacturing, strengthen the capabilities of the US supply chain, and reduce acquisition costs for DoD.


The Digital Lab will establish new projects on applied research with industrial partners, course development, and workforce development through a competitive process, which provides opportunities for Northwestern faculty to become involved in their areas of interest.


Digital manufacturing is the use of an integrated, computer-based system comprised of simulation, three-dimensional (3D) visualization, analytics, and various collaboration tools to create product and manufacturing process definitions simultaneously.


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