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Another Boost for Illinois Manufacturing

For the second time this month, the University of Illinois is lending a hand to its local economy, according to an announcement to be made in Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State address today.

In his speech, the governor will announce that the Urbana-Champaign school will be partnering with its National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) and a number of private organizations to create an Illinois Manufacturing Lab.

For those experiencing déjà vu, this facility is distinct from the recently announced UI Labs tech-research center. The new facility plans to focus on applications and will be slightly smaller than the UI Labs facility.

According to Caralynn Nowkinski, associate vice president for innovation in the office of the vice president for research at U of I, UI Labs was built in the tradition of the old Bell Labs. The IML, by comparison, will be modeled on the Fraunhofer Institute, which focuses on refining manufacturing methods and techniques in addition to designing new products.

The hope is that this new lab will fill a void in what once was Chicago's shining manufacturing industry by allowing companies in the vicinity of the university to use digital tools and create new equipment.

To kick-start this process, the Illinois Manufacturing Lab has been given $5 million from the state, along with $5 million from private firms. However, the lab's three-year goal is to have 50 full-time staffers, visiting faculty fellows, and a $10 million annual operating budget.

We've realized that there is this increasing demand from manufacturers, both large and small, that need access to expertise and training,” said Nowkinski. She hopes the facility will become “a central place, a physical hub that for the first time will aggregate resources available to manufacturers in Illinois.”

To accomplish this, the lab will focus on granting companies access to modeling and simulation for manufacturing necessities such as metallurgical design and supply chains, while helping to train those working in this highly technology-based industry.

Nowinski reported that the university has received a “very positive” response after speaking to World Business Chicago and potential private investors regarding funding. But following President Obama's suggestion that America must act lest it fall behind in the manufacturing world, the IML will be scouting for federal funding to make a name for itself and, hopefully, restore Chicago's economy.

Full story at Chicago Business

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