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January 11, 2015 | Tom Ballard

COMMENTARY: New Manufacturing Innovation Institute is “really big” in many ways for region

White House-teknoBy Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.

The announcement about the new “Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Advanced Composites” that President Obama made on Friday in Clinton is obviously a huge opportunity for the region.

Having some knowledge about the proposal that was submitted in response to a federal solicitation, I could not help but recall the words of Ed Sullivan, the legendary host of an early network television show. He described his weekly show and many of his guests with two words – “really big.”

Such a description might actually be an understatement for this win.

  • Just the size alone is significant. It involves 122 companies, nonprofits, universities and research laboratories in a nearly $260 million manufacturing innovation initiative. Federal funding through the Department of Energy accounts for $70 million, but the balance – nearly $190 million – comes from non-federal sources.  A more than 2.5 to 1 match of this size is extraordinary.
  • What’s at least as significant as the quarter of a billion dollars is the fact that national attention on advanced composites, such as those that allowed Local Motors to produce its Strati via 3D printing, will be focused clearly on this region. The University of Tennessee (UT) is the lead for the consortium that clearly draws on the significant scientific and manufacturing assets of Oak Ridge National Laboratory that is managed by UT-Battelle, LLC. These include both the Carbon Fiber Technology Facility in Oak Ridge and the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility off Hardin Valley Road in West Knoxville.
  • The Institute will focus on cutting-edge research on advanced composites such as carbon fiber, noted as materials that are three times as strong and twice as light as the lightest metals. According to the White House fact sheet, the Institute “will work to develop lower-cost, higher-speed, and more efficient manufacturing and recycling processes for advanced composites.”
  • The membership of the consortium is large and diverse. There are 86 key partners spread across 57 companies, 15 universities and laboratories, and 14 other entities plus 36 other members.

For those who champion this region as a technology, innovation, and entrepreneurial hub, this is a “really big” win to celebrate and cherish for a long time. Click here to read the UT news release.

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