Detroit Chosen as Location for $148M Manufacturing Innovation Center

7/25/14Follow @XconomyDET

In February, President Barack Obama announced that Michigan had won a competitive national bidding process to host the new, $148 million American Lightweight Manufacturing Innovation Institute (ALMII) created as part of the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) initiative. This week, officials revealed that ALMII will be headquartered on Rosa Parks Boulevard in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood, utilizing a 107,000-square-foot facility that was vacated by Mexican Industries more than a decade ago.

ALMII is a public-private partnership led by the University of Michigan, Ohio State University, Ohio-based manufacturing technology nonprofit EWI, and the U.S. Department of Defense. The institute, one of four NNMI pilot centers nationwide, will receive $70 million in federal funding over five years, with $78 million in matching funds contributed by ALMII’s 70-plus partner organizations, including Tier 1 suppliers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), small companies, government entities, and more than a dozen universities and national labs.

In February, when the initial announcement about ALMII was made, officials said the institute would create 10,000 jobs in the Midwest—mostly in metal stamping, machining, and casting—over five years. Originally, a site in Canton, MI, was proposed to house ALMII, but by the time Michigan was awarded the project, the Canton site was no longer on the market, says Alan Taub, a professor of materials science at U-M and ALMII’s chief technical officer. The Detroit facility’s lease has been signed, Taub says, and the institute is expected to open in the fall.

Taub says the Department of Defense uses a technology readiness scale between one and 10, with 10 being the most ready. All the work done at ALMII will begin with technology at a level four on DOD’s readiness scale. Ideas will be “taken off the lab bench” and transformed into pilot projects in conjunction with industry partners. The goal is to make the technology more robust and affordable, Taub says.

“Getting technology to market is the focus at ALMII,” Taub says. “It’s not about basic research, it’s about taking that work and getting it ready for commercialization.”

ALMII will concentrate on innovations in lightweight materials—high-strength steel, aluminum, titanium, and magnesium—for land, sea, and air vehicle applications. Taub says because of the way the public-private partnership is structured, the plan is for all projects to be industry-led, with support from university researchers.

“The goal is to get the supply chain involved from the beginning, with support from academia, as a way to speed up the innovation process,” Taub says. “Really, it’s a test of whether we can improve U.S. manufacturing competitiveness. We’re integrating the supply chain up front with universities, national labs, and small, innovative companies. Southeast Michigan has a core strength in metal manufacturing, and this is an opportunity to build on that.”

Another big component of ALMII will be its workforce development program, with the White House referring to ALMII as “a teaching factory” that will offer training pathways to jobs in all areas of transportation manufacturing, including the auto, aircraft, heavy truck, ship, rail, and defense industries.

“We’ll be training the next-generation manufacturing workforce, and we’ll have staff at the facility working with industry partners to install manufacturing pilots,” Taub says.

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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