City breaks ground on collaborative digital manufacturing hub

City breaks ground on collaborative digital manufacturing hub


Leaning on its manufacturing past to help cement its status as a future tech leader, the City of Chicago this week broke ground on the new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII), a $300-million, 94,000-sf facility located on Goose Island, north and west of the downtown Loop. When it opens next spring, the facility will be the first of 45 new digital manufacturing labs announced last February by President Obama as part of a major initiative to improve the nation's global competitiveness.

"This is an important milestone in a long effort and a larger strategy to put the City of Chicago front and center of the digital manufacturing revolution,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel at the morning ceremony. "The research that comes out of DMDII will underpin the products, the patents, and the production of so many new technologies, create new companies and help us attract existing companies to Chicago.”

DMDII will also become the permanent home of UI LABS, a Chicago-based research and commercialization collaborative that brings together industries, universities and government to apply practical solutions to tomorrow’s business, economic and cultural challenges. UI LABS is an independent non-profit applied research institute with plans to launch a portfolio of programs that leverage the Midwest’s concentration of leading research universities. 

“We are building the factory of the future – where business and academia will convene to tackle important manufacturing challenges,” said Caralynn Nowinski, Executive Director of UI LABS. “At the same time, this facility will be the place where American workers – and the next generation of workers – will have an opportunity to see, learn and participate in the transformation of U.S. manufacturing.”

Last spring, DMDII's chief technology Bill King further explained to ChicagoInno how advances in technology have effectively reversed manufacturing's one-time outsourcing trend. "Outsourcing made the communication between designer and maker difficult," said King. Today, rising material costs and improved communication and collaboration tools has all but killed outsourcing. "The cost of digital manufacturing technology is dropping," he added. "{And) the access to technology is easier, allowing small companies to build things they were never able to build before."

Collaborative transparency

Designed by Skidmore, Owings, & Merrill LLP (SOM), the DMDII space plays on the idea of transparency by adding glass storefronts and window bays to the existing building’s exterior. Glass walls, exposed plumbing and mechanical systems reinforce the theme and foster an open, collaborative environment. The completed building will include a manufacturing floor for demonstrations, classrooms, a lecture hall and collaborative meeting rooms. The City of Chicago has committed $10 million towards facility design and construction. 

Leveraging a co-investment of $70 million from the U.S. Dept. of Defense, matched by investment from industry, university, and state and local government partners, DMDII will help U.S. manufacturers increase productivity through a more effective use of data across every stage of the manufacturing process. Again, collaboration is the key. And toward that end, DMDII already boasts more than 500 participating companies and organizations

"DMDII will make our small and midsize manufacturers more competitive globally by allowing them to integrate computing capabilities throughout design, testing and production," said U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL).

DMDII is a public-private consortium that brings together hundreds of entities, including over 40 leading manufacturing and technology companies, with more than 30 university, government and community partners. The roster includes Boeing, Caterpillar, Dow Chemical, General Electric, Illinois Tool Works, Iowa State University, John Deere, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft, Northwestern University, Northern Illinois University, PARC, Purdue University, Procter & Gamble, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rolls Royce, Siemens, University of Chicago, University of Iowa, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Louisville, and the University of Texas at Austin.

“Advances in digital manufacturing are already improving companies’ performance all across America,” exlained Dean Bartles, Executive Director of DMDII. “DMDII is going to take these advances to the next level by bringing technical expertise and connecting the dots across America’s supply chain.”

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