Reif joins manufacturing group

Will co-chair Obama’s national committee on innovation

On Sept. 26, the White House announced that President L. Rafael Reif will co-chair the newly formed Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) Steering Committee 2.0. This committee, launched by President Barack Obama to strengthen U.S. manufacturing, was formed from the recommendations of a previous Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee that reported its findings in July 2012. AMP 2.0 is composed of public university presidents and private industry CEOs from throughout the U.S.

National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

According to Associate Provost Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88, the faculty lead for AMP 2.0, the new committee was formed for “executing a number of [AMP 1.0’s] recommendations. Probably the most prominent of these was the creation of national network of manufacturing institutes.” According to the government’s AMP website, a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) would include regional hubs, each with a “Institute for Manufacturing Innovation” (IMI), to work with existing manufacturers to promote innovation. From the report made by the first AMP, the NNMI was conceived to bridge the gap between research and production, a so-called “valley of death” in the business production world.

The IMIs are proposed as non-profit institutes with federal, state, and regional government support and private industry funding, according to Schmidt. He expects that the private investment in such institutes would at least match the government contribution, adding, “Over time, you would like to see the institute sort of become nominally self sufficient. So it would wean itself from significant federal support.”

Currently, there are three pilot IMIs funded by the Department of Defense and the Department of Energy. The DOD maintains two IMIs: the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation Institute and the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute. The DOE has founded the Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute. These three institutes will join the pilot IMI program founded in Youngstown, Ohio, which President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union address last year.

NNMI, startups, and MIT

When asked about how the new partnership will affect MIT, Schmidt stated, “The actions of AMP is to convert the Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) study to real-world application. It’s kind of like AMP is our own place for experimentation.” PIE, a study chaired by political science professor Suzanne Berger and biology institute professor Phillip A. Sharp, examined production capabilities in relation to sectors including large corporations, start-ups, and manufacturing in China and Germany and reported its results in September.

One of the recommendations of PIE is risk-pooling for large capital, or bringing multiple companies together in one space to minimize risky operations, a goal to be shared by the NNMI according to Schmidt.

The IMIs are founded with the hopes of making strong partnerships with public research universities. Schmidt suggested they would extend the research abilities of universities and their capacity to continue to work on new technology. While no IMIs have been founded in the Cambridge area, Schmidt hopes that a new IMI will form based around the hub of life sciences/biotechnology in this region.

IMIs are also thought to fill some gaps created by startups in the production process. Schmidt maintained that startups and IMIs can work together constructively in the same industry space. “When you have a new technology — imagine if I’m a startup and I want to take this new disruptive 3D printing for metals — as a startup, one of the difficulties startups have is that it is very difficult to raise money for capital equipment.”

He continued, stating that the venture capitalist model for new companies affects those startups focused on non-software products, as many investors see major inputs into capital as “highly inefficient.” According to Schmidt, these efforts could come in to fund larger, higher-cost startups.

The AMP committee appointment coincides with Reif’s newly outlined Innovation Initiative. Headed by Associate Prof. Fiona Murray of the Sloan School and Prof. Vladimir Bulovic, this initiative is tasked with strengthening MIT’s “innovation ecosystem” and applying the results of PIE.

AMP on education

AMP 1.0 also made a number of recommendations for increasing the educated workforce by empowering community colleges. Schmidt stated that MIT’s major involvement with digital learning resources, such as edX, could transform these vocational courses. “A number of community colleges cannot fill the seats for their vocational courses because of the high commute times,” said Schmidt. To solve this problem, Schmidt concluded, “MIT’s increased involvement with community colleges can allow these institutes to deliver resources remotely to solve this problem.”

While there is no current mechanism for student input for AMP, Schmidt mentioned the possibility of a northeast regional panel meeting being hosted at MIT in the future. AMP 1.0’s regional meeting at MIT, which took place on November 28, 2011, included workshops throughout the day with possible venues for student and community input.

Schmidt compared the spinoffs of AMP and the newly created Innovation Initiative to the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI). “The expectation here is that the students will engage in this initiative and many new clubs and ideas will be spawned from this,” he said.