Warren Hunt

Innovation ecosystems. Regional clusters. Industrial commons. Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation. All of these mechanisms are important for advancing the critical technologies needed to revitalize the U.S. manufacturing sector. But how can the U.S. government support the emergence of advanced manufacturing across a broad range of sectors without “picking winners and losers”? I think the recently announced Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia (AMTech) Program has an answer.

Established by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), AMTech will provide resources (up to $4 million in two-year planning grants in FY13) to help industry consortia form and strengthen so that they can determine their biggest technology needs and develop roadmaps to address them. Armed with these plans, industry consortia can pursue increased and more effective R&D through aligned, coordinated action that targets what industry considers its biggest challenges.

The program may also have the added benefit of building and strengthening U.S. capacity for pre-competitive R&D in key advanced manufacturing topics through the formation of new consortia. Ultimately, AMTech’s goal is to eliminate the barriers to advanced manufacturing and promote the development of a technology infrastructure that will enable its widespread implementation.

AMTech has the potential to provide important benefits to the government’s plan for a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). Coordinated under the banner of the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office, NNMI is built on certain “design parameters” that will guide up to 15 proposed Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation that would be supported by a $1 billion request in the President’s FY14 budget. While the initial institutes, specifically the pilot National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute and the three recently announced Institute competitions, have been driven by government priorities, the plan for the future institutes is that they will be driven by industry-identified needs. AMTech grants aim to provide industry-led consortia with the support they need to identify the highest value crosscutting manufacturing challenges and opportunities, work that could provide insight to the development of the institutes’ focus areas.

Efforts to form consortia and develop technology roadmaps have proven to be critical to success in the past. For example, the industry consortium SEMATECH helped launch semiconductor manufacturing in the United States by pooling experts and using the roadmapping process to develop a plan of attack. Developing compelling roadmaps along with a process to effectively utilize them as a first step provides the vision needed to effectively prioritize resources and increases the potential for advanced manufacturing to realize its great potential in the United States.

There’s been a lot of talk about advanced manufacturing at the highest levels of industry and government. But talk only goes so far. With the industry-driven technology roadmaps that AMTech promises to deliver, the United States will have firm plans that can accelerate the transformation and revitalization of the manufacturing sector.