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Commerce Department Awards $54M Grants for Advanced Manufacturing

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has awarded nearly $54 million in grants for 13 high-impact projects for research, development and testbeds for pandemic response.

The funding, provided by the American Rescue Act, will support projects at eight manufacturing innovation institutes in the Manufacturing USA network, working with more than 80 partners including leading research universities, nonprofits, and small and large manufacturers. This includes $11.12 million to Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Inc. (AFFOA) in Cambridge, Mass., to enable manufacturing automation and supply chain diversification, and to address the environmental impact of personal protective equipment (PPE), working with more than 12 partner organizations.

“Rebuilding our manufacturing economy is an essential component to strengthening our communities and creating opportunity for all Americans,” said Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. “The breadth and variety of these awards shows that manufacturing can be an economic driver in every community. From creating an advanced manufacturing testbed in Appalachia, to building clean, reliable power in Native American communities, these grants are essential to creating manufacturing jobs and skills in every corner of America.”

Each institute in the Manufacturing USA network is a public-private partnership focused on an advanced manufacturing specialty such as additive manufacturing, advanced chip manufacturing or robotics. The institutes collaborate with academic and private sector manufacturing organizations on applied research and development projects and advanced manufacturing skills training.

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The awardees will use advanced manufacturing technologies to produce PPE and medical equipment; create new, sustainable domestic supply chains; improve resilience in existing supply chains; produce novel Covid-19 tests; provide shared-access equipment and facilities; produce health alert systems, and train and develop the next-generation manufacturing workforce.

Another recipient is Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute (ARM) in Pittsburgh, which will receive $4.93 million to create the Robotics and Automation Decision Framework for Agility and Resilience (RADAR) that will allow small and medium-sized manufacturers to systematically evaluate the cost-to-benefit ratio of integrating robotics and automation into manufacturing processes to support coronavirus response, working with six partner organizations.

In order to create new jobs and provide domestic manufacturers with a competitive edge, two institutes in the Manufacturing USA network–AFFOA and ARM–are working to revolutionize the U.S domestic textile industry. Manufacturing USA is a national network created to secure U.S. global leadership in advanced manufacturing through large-scale public-private collaboration on technology, supply chain, and education and workforce development.

AFFOA and ARM are collaborating with their membership ecosystems to identify advanced textile technologies and manufacturing capabilities to automate processes and develop innovative products such as smart fabrics and e-textiles. Together, the institutes are helping to reinvigorate the domestic textile industrial base, increase adoption of advanced manufacturing technologies and develop the next-generation textile workforce.

AFFOA is transforming traditional fibers, yarns and textiles into highly sophisticated, integrated and networked devices and systems, enabling novel products and business models that leverage fabrics as a service. AFFOA describes functional or smart fabrics as being active or responsive to an environment, including but not limited to the use of electronics embedded in the textile.

AFFOA said its role in this advanced fiber and fabric technology development ecosystem as bridging the “innovation valley of death” in manufacturing readiness level, taking a new technology with an established proof of concept through R&D to develop prototypes and scalable processes for commercialization.