University’s involvement expected to create jobs, economic opportunities in Iowa
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The University of Iowa will be a research partner in a $320 million national consortium to advance digital manufacturing and design in the United States, university leaders announced on Tuesday.

Digital Lab Logo
The UI will be part of the $320 million Digital Lab consortium. Logo credit: Digital Lab.

The Digital Lab for Manufacturing (Digital Lab) will be the nation’s flagship research institute for digital manufacturing and design innovation. The lab, anchored in Chicago but involving a group of world-class research universities, will apply cutting-edge technologies to reduce the time and cost of manufacturing, strengthen the capabilities of the U.S. supply chain, and reduce acquisition costs for the Department of Defense, which is supplying the initial funding. The grant is seeded by $70 million from the government and will be leveraged by commitments of $250 million from industry, academia, government and community partners, forming a $320 million institute.

The investment is part of President Obama’s vision to reinvigorate U.S. manufacturing, creating new jobs and economic development, and spurring future innovation. The UI’s partnership in the consortium will translate into jobs and economic opportunities in the state, university leaders said.

"Our participation in this national network aligns with several University of Iowa institutional priorities,” says Dan Reed, vice president for research and economic development at the UI, who attended a White House ceremony on Tuesday, Feb. 25, to announce the consortium’s creation. “The Digital Lab promotes creative public-private partnerships, encourages job growth in the region, spurs innovation, enhances workforce development in the technology sector, and promises to diversify our portfolio of research funders."

Reed added the UI will use its digital-manufacturing profile to support large manufacturing companies as well as to connect smaller manufacturing firms statewide to a network of research and development expertise spearheaded at Iowa's Regents universities.

Digital manufacturing is the use of an integrated, computer-based system comprised of simulation, three-dimensional (3D) visualization, analytics and various collaboration tools to create product and manufacturing process definitions simultaneously.

The UI brings decades of experience to the field. Karim Abdel-Malek, biomedical engineering professor and director of the UI’s Center for Computer Aided Design, is the project director for the Iowa team. He and his colleagues in the College of Engineering aim to optimize digital-manufacturing modeling and processes and expand the frontiers of virtual-reality, 3D environments for product design and testing, through simulations for military and industry applications, from vehicles to armaments.

“Advances in virtual manufacturing and virtual testing will lead to substantial reductions in costs and time to market, and the UI has the right people, software tools, and simulation environments to be a leader in this technological frontier,” Abdel-Malek says. “And, as a teaching university, we will add to the robust effort in Iowa to entice students at all levels in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

University leaders praised Iowa’s congressional delegation,Gov. Terry Branstad, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds, and other state leaders for supporting the university’s effort.

Led by UI LABS at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Digital Lab brings together 40 industry partners, and more than 30 academia, government, and community partners, as well as 500-plus supporting companies and organizations.

Leading industry partners include General Electric, Rolls-Royce, Procter & Gamble, Dow, Lockheed Martin, and Siemens. University and government partners are regionally anchored in the Midwest, spanning Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Nebraska, and extending to Colorado, New York, Oregon, and Texas, to leverage the best research and technology in the country and deploy solutions on a broad scale.