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Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0 Regional Meeting

“A New Industrial Revolution”

Remarks by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

EMPAC Theater
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY

Thursday, April 24, 2014


Welcome everyone, to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the magnificent Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center. Welcome, also, to beautiful Troy, New York—in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a great manufacturing center for iron, steel, and apparel—and, not coincidentally, one of the most prosperous cities in the United States during that period.

From its founding in 1824, Rensselaer, in its research and teaching, applied science and technology to manufacturing, making it cleaner, safer, and more efficient. This still is a major focus today, as we are entering a new industrial revolution—enabled by technology advancing at a dazzling pace.

It has been a very big week for manufacturing at Rensselaer! I hope that those of you who attended the conference sponsored by the Rensselaer Center for Automation Technologies and Systems and the Center for Economic Growth found it informative. Now, you have the opportunity to inform national policy.

As a member of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, I was co-author of a report to the President, in 2011, on advanced manufacturing. We urged the development, on a national basis, of a coherent innovation policy to support manufacturing enterprises that are using or arising from new technologies.

In our report, PCAST defined “advanced manufacturing” as

  • Depending on the use and coordination of information, automation, computation, software, sensing, and networking;
  • And/or making use of cutting-edge materials and emerging capabilities enabled by the physical and biological sciences—for example, nanobiotechnology.

In addition, we pointed to the key goals the United States needed to set for itself to lead globally in advanced manufacturing:

  1. Create a fertile environment for innovation, and
  2. Overcome market failures that keep promising technologies from commercialization.

We offered a number of recommendations, including those that helped to inspire the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation [NNMI], a new public-private partnership designed to support the most promising technologies for advanced manufacturing at a national scale. As an outgrowth of the PCAST report, President Obama formed the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.

I was honored to have been invited by President Obama to join the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0 Steering Committee, which is identifying further mechanisms to create an even more fertile environment for innovation and to overcome market failures—so that our existing manufacturers can become more competitive, and new ventures can take flight.

I want to thank the members of the AMP 2.0 working groups, who are here to tell you about our progress, and, especially, Dr. John Wen, who is head of the Rensselaer Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and my representative on the Operating Committee for AMP.

Clearly, this is a moment of great optimism for the U.S. manufacturing sector. Allow me to enumerate some of the great achievements and remarkable opportunities before us today.

Nationwide, over the last four years, 600,000 manufacturing jobs have been added to our economy. Major manufacturers, such as our co-host today, GlobalFoundries, are expanding their U.S. operations. And they are setting in motion a virtuous cycle, as they accelerate technological innovation, and provide sustenance to other manufacturers, big and small, within a large and diverse supply chain.

I want to point out that, domestically, an expansion of manufacturing is occurring not merely because of equalizing costs between manufacturing in emerging markets and developed markets, such as the U.S.—but also because there is increasing recognition of the advantages, first, of staying close to one’s customers and, second, of keeping manufacturing and R&D proximate to each other. Nowhere is this more evident than in the manufacture of advanced materials and biotherapeutics. Since process advances often inspire product advances, a manufacturing base is essential, if the United States is to continue creating next-generation products.

There is increasing recognition, as well, of the degree to which high-tech startups, such as those that regularly grow out of Rensselaer faculty and student inventions and innovations, drive our economy and create jobs—companies such as Crystal IS, founded by two Rensselaer professors, which manufactures ultraviolet LEDs for the purification and sterilization of water, air, and solid surfaces. There are important benefits economy-wide to helping such promising startups safely cross the many valleys of death they face on the road to becoming viable enterprises.

Clearly, there is tremendous cause for optimism in revolutionary manufacturing technologies, as well—particularly those enabled by high-performance computation for modeling and simulation, which is transforming both process and product design. Our Center for Computational Innovations, which includes AMOS, the most powerful supercomputer at an American private university, works frequently with industry. In fact, it takes the full 1.1 petaflops capacity of AMOS—in other words, the ability to perform over a quadrillion calculations per second—to solve problems such as that posed by Rensselaer faculty and advanced composites manufacturer XCA. Together, they are designing a new smart blade for wind turbines that controls for the vibrations and unsteady loads generated by constantly changing winds, with turbulence and gusts—in order to extend the life of both gearboxes and blades.

Remarkable new materials, such as graphene, also offer tremendous promise for manufacturers. At Rensselaer, our materials scientists and engineers work hand-in-hand with our experts in computer and data science on materials informatics that allow the rational design of new materials for specific properties. This work helps to advance the White House Materials Genome Initiative, which aims to speed the development of promising new materials by creating a national infrastructure for the sharing of data and tools for materials design and development.

Another significant advance is the embedded sensing and networking of a wide array of devices, and the burgeoning of the so-called "Internet of Things,” which is opening up new insights to those manufacturers ready to analyze and use the data generated by products and processes.

Also transforming factory floors are lower-cost and higher-functioning robots. Increasingly intelligent and dexterous robots, such as those being developed at Rensselaer, will soon offer the possibility of cost-effective automation even to smaller manufacturers, because of the increasing flexibility with which they may be used, including working alongside human workers. Robots are likely to become much more important, also, as consumer products, particularly as assistants for those with illnesses or disabilities.

Radically new assembly methods—such as additive manufacturing and biomanufacturing—are increasing the sustainability of manufacturing while improving products. Ecovative Design, founded by two Rensselaer students, demonstrates the promise of biomanufacturing. Ecovative produces biodegradable alternatives to styrofoam—by using mushrooms to create insulation and packaging materials from agricultural waste. Are the facilities where these products are made factories? Or are they farms? The fact that we even can ask such questions indicates a remarkable flowering of creativity in the manufacturing sector.

And, there is tremendous excitement on the part of students at Rensselaer about manufacturing, thanks to…

  • appealing entrepreneurs such as Ecovative Design founders Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre, from whom you will hear in just a moment;
  • the maker movement;
  • and the merging of computation and manufacturing, which makes process and product design as playful as a video game.

We are creating the next evolution of our Manufacturing Innovation Learning Laboratory, or the MILL, to develop the next generation of manufacturing leaders and entrepreneurs. In addition to the fundamental instruction we long have offered to undergraduates in product and process design, we are expanding our course offerings at the MILL with graduate-level classes focused on…

  • nano- and micro-scale manufacturing,
  • Big Data collection,
  • high-speed manufacturing,
  • advanced robotics,
  • advanced composites, and
  • additive manufacturing.

Last fall, a number of industrial partners helped us to teach the pilot Advanced Manufacturing Processes and Systems graduate engineering class, and two of the students from that class now are finalists in a manufacturing design contest sponsored by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers [ASME] and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers [SME]. Along with this expansion in the course of study, we intend to expand the physical space in which The MILL is housed to support both classes and student projects.

Our students’ excitement about advanced manufacturing suggests that a cultural shift is occurring—that the young do not see manufacturing as brutal and dull, but, instead, as deft and ingenious—and we must encourage this shift.

To take full advantage of this moment of promise—to help existing manufacturers to use new technologies to become more competitive—and to encourage the manufacture of new technologies and products in the United States—we must refresh and reinforce the historic three-way partnership among government, industry, and universities that has powered our economy since World War II. Clearly important are…

  • federal investments in university-based research that generates ground-breaking ideas for industry and educates the next generations of innovators;
  • tax and business policies that encourage R&D and manufacturing activities in the U.S.; and
  • education and immigration policies that develop and attract highly skilled human capital, both domestic and international.

Also essential, however, is the shared infrastructure to enable new technologies when the market will not: when the research and development of specific new technologies or their commercialization encounter market failures, such as being too capital-intensive or complex for individual businesses to undertake; or when the returns offered by these technologies are likely to be so broadly shared, no individual business can justify the investment—though they are crucial to a specific manufacturing sector.

Already, on the state level, we have excellent examples of successful government-supported shared infrastructure. Over 30 years ago, New York State was ahead of its time in creating its Centers for Advanced Technology, each one concentrating on a particular field of endeavor, to facilitate the transfer of technology from research universities into commercially viable products.

At Rensselaer, we host two of these centers, funded by the Empire State Development Corporation. Our Center for Automation Technologies and Systems, or CATS, proves the outsized economic impact that results from a well-managed three-way partnership: Since 2006, CATS has helped manufacturers to realize over $340 million in economic impact and to secure over 850 jobs.

It is important to note that the transfer of knowledge does not work one way: The manufacturers who come to CATS also educate and inspire our students. For example, two Rensselaer students, working with manufacturer Kintz Plastics at CATS, pioneered research into the manufacture of advanced composites. The result was a spin-off company, Vistex Composites, which is bringing to market a patented new method of consolidating and curing advanced composite laminates that is much less expensive and much more energy efficient than the standard autoclaving.

Our second state-funded Center for Advanced Technology, the Center for Future Energy Systems, also focuses on energy efficiencies, as well as advances in energy storage to enable greater use of renewable energy, and the development of a smart grid. Again, important work is occurring here to make U.S. manufacturing more globally competitive. Both the Center for Future Energy Systems and our National Science Foundation-funded Smart Lighting Engineering Research Center are working on power electronics based on wide bandgap semiconductors that promise to make consumer electronics and electric motors much more efficient. Given that motor-driven systems account for over two-thirds of the electricity used by manufacturers worldwide, this is highly significant.

The other states in our region also are focused on innovation in advanced manufacturing. Now, we have the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, representing shared infrastructure on a national scale, to help to knit together all of these diverse efforts. Today, you will have the opportunity to further refine the technology priorities of the NNMI—as well as to address other challenges that include developing the kind of financing, workforce, and supply chains that advanced manufacturing demands. Your thoughts and concerns will shape the final report the AMP 2.0 Steering Committee presents to the President this summer.

As you begin this day, think about this—throughout the Northeast, we are surrounded by the monuments created by an earlier era of manufacturing. AMP 2.0 is intended to catalyze a new era of greatness in our manufacturing sector. The tools and the factories will look radically different. Remaining the same will be creativity, the energy, the grand ambitions, and the prosperity generated by manufacturing companies able to lead on a world stage.

I wish you all a productive and enjoyable day. Thank you for your participation in this crucial endeavor.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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Page updated: 4/25/14, 9:28 AM
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