US looks to introduce network of ‘catapult-like’ innovation centres

Posted on 7 Jan 2015 by Tim Brown

Just prior to Christmas, the US government took a large step toward creating its long-proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation with the passing of the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI).

Introduced by US Republican, Joseph Kennedy III, with New York Congressman, Tom Reed, the legislation secured more than 100 co-sponsors, evenly split between both sides of the political divide and the bill passed the House in September with overwhelming support.  A companion bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri.

The Act, which has now been signed by President Obama, will see the introduction of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation which is designed to establish a public-private partnerships between small businesses, industry leaders, and research institutions, giving them the tools they need to compete on a global scale.

Similar to the Catapult centres in the UK, the US government hopes its regional, industry-led hubs will create thousands of high-paying, high-tech manufacturing jobs for next-generation workers.

Tthe President will announce more than $290 million in public-private investment for two new Manufacturing Innovation Hub Competitions. The announcement fulfills the President’s 2014 State of the Union pledge to launch four new institutes, for a total of eight institutes launched so far, and puts the Administration past the halfway mark on the President’s original goal of creating 15 manufacturing innovation institutes supported through executive action.

Republican Tom Reed, who hopes to help secure a southern tier in network with Alfred University and Corning Inc., teaming up with the Rochester Institute of Technology, said applicants to the network would be expected to submit proposals to the US Department of Congress by midyear, with selections of sites and programs to begin before the end of the year.

Last year, the American Lightweight Materials Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMMII) – the sort of National Network for Manufacturing Innovation that will be created by RAMI – was announced by the Administration. Co-led by the Ohio State University, the University of Michigan, and Columbus’s Edison Welding Institute, the ALMMII will promote advanced lightweight materials technology – efforts that will advance manufacturing, like the technology being developed at the Center for Emergent Materials. This project is estimated to create more than 10,000 new jobs in the next five years. With this investment in our workers and businesses, the United States will once again lead the world in manufacturing and innovation.

In additon to ALMMII, America Makes in Youngstown has also already been established. Headed by Ralph Resnick, the centre is focused on helping the United States grow capabilities and strength in 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

To back its investment plan, the US Government points to estimates from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that every $1 spent in manufacturing creates $1.35 of additional economic activity. Various studies have shown that the location of a new manufacturing plant results in increased productivity at other firms in the region.

“Some say America’s strength is in services rather than manufacturing and we should focus 21st-century investments accordingly,” Senator Sherrod Brown wrote recently. “Our strength should be in both. We know first-hand how successful American manufacturing companies can be. We recognise that America can and must excel at manufacturing and services in order to be globally competitive.”

It is not yet clear how much will be invested in the development of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation but The Innovation Technology & Innovation Foundation has called on the Government to invest $500m in the scheme to support the initial deployment of at least 15 and as many as 25 Institutes of Manufacturing Innovation.