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New Illinois lab to link companies with research

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 25, 2014 at 4:05 pm •  Published: February 25, 2014

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (AP) — The new public-private digital manufacturing lab planned for Chicago will mean 50 to 70 jobs for the city, a professor involved in the project says, but potentially far-reaching innovation for dozens of companies involved.

The new Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute that President Barack Obama announced Tuesday will be at Goose Island in Chicago, but the list of universities and companies involved in the public-private partnership is long. The 23 universities include the University of Illinois, Northwestern, the University of Chicago and Purdue. The more than 40 larger companies include Caterpillar Inc., Deere & Co., Boeing Co., General Electric Co. and Dow Chemical Co., plus there are dozens more smaller ones participating.

The Goose Island facility will employ those 50 to 70 people, said William King, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Illinois who will be the chief technical officer at the institute.

But the institute will also link together many existing assets, such as the National Supercomputing Center at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

The $320 million institute — $70 million from the U.S. Department of Defense and $250 million from other public and private sources — isn't expected to directly create large numbers of new jobs, according to an FAQ about the project provided by the federal government, but to make manufacturers who work in defense and elsewhere more efficient and competitive.

King says the lab aims to become a link between the research capabilities of big universities and the businesses — including many dozens of small ones — that can put it to use to solve the kinds of problems they share.

One key piece will be gathering and trying to make sense of massive amounts of data generated by any manufacturing process — how long it takes, what's involved in the process, how much a mistake can cost — that now may not be used at all.

He uses the example of an engine maker.

"If I have hundreds of parts that are flowing in from dozens of suppliers — if I get all the data, then I can start to ask all the questions like, 'Which parts should go together in which combinations to make the best engine?'" King said. "You assemble your engine faster (and) you have a higher quality product."

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