March 06, 2014

Researchers to assist in manufacturing initiative

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Faculty researchers from the colleges of engineering and science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale will participate in a recently announced federally supported initiative to assist the manufacturing sector. SIU's role will be coordinated through the university's Materials Technology Center and Center for Embedded Systems, which is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation. 

President Barack Obama announced on Feb. 25 that a multi-partner team led by UI LABS in Chicago has been selected to receive a $70 million award from the U.S. Department of Defense for the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute. The long-term goal of the institute is to make American manufacturing more competitive on the global stage. 

The federal investment will be used to establish the Digital Lab for Manufacturing, a collaborative initiative focused on research and commercialization. Along with the $70 million cooperative agreement, UI LABS has secured an additional $250 million dollars of support from industry, university, government, and community partners to form the $320 million digital lab. 

As a partner in the collaborative, SIU will share in the opportunities to conduct applied research in the areas of advanced materials, digital manufacturing and embedded systems, according to Chancellor Rita Cheng. 

“This effort has the potential to transform the way we support and develop manufacturing,” Cheng said. “It’s also an excellent example of how university researchers can work with and support advances in industry. Although the specifics of our engagement in the collaborative are still being formed, we are ready and eager to participate and proud to be a part of it.” 

SIU identified two key areas of research on which to focus for the project:  materials technology and embedded systems.  The university is recognized for its research in both of these areas, which have significant application to manufacturing. 

The Materials Technology Center supports research projects across many specializations, including computational materials design, sensors and biosensors, and composites and other materials for manufacturing. The center is led by Ian Suni, a professor of mechanical engineering and energy processes and chemistry and biochemistry. 

The Center for Embedded Systems is an industry university cooperative research center established by the National Science Foundation on research and development of systems for personal technology, health care, security, aerospace and other technological areas.  A key aspect of digital manufacturing, embedded systems use microprocessors to control systems and provide feedback about system function.

Spyros Tragoudas, professor and chair of electrical and computer engineering and director of the embedded systems center, said a team from the university was involved in the digital manufacturing collaborative effort from the very start.

Tragoudas said SIU has the technical expertise to contribute directly to the digital manufacturing effort, especially in areas such as computer software and hardware, electrical systems and materials technology.

“Digital manufacturing is very related to what we do here, and we have the technical experts who could be involved in certain aspects,” Tragoudas said.  “We will be involved, but the roles have not yet been defined and the magnitude of our involvement or the amount of money we might receive is not yet known.”

SIU will join a list of other prestigious institutions in Illinois that committed to participate in the collaborative, including the University of Illinois, Northwestern University, the Illinois Institute of Technology, the University of Chicago, and Northern Illinois University.