DoD Announces $270M in New Funding for US Advanced Manufacturing

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The US Department of Defense (DoD) made two announcements in the last couple of weeks that together amount to about $270 million in public spending on the US production base, funds that are intended to build up the country’s advanced manufacturing capabilities, in particular. The first announcement, made on September 20 and involving funds from the CHIPS and Science Act, concerned the award of almost $240 million for eight regional hubs across the US that will, as a whole, constitute what’s being referred to as the ‘Microelectronics Commons’.

The eight hubs are all led either by major research universities, state government agencies, or, in the case of Ohio, a public-private partnership — the Midwest Microelectronics Consortium Hub (MMCH) — that seems to have been created explicitly for this purpose. The Northeast Microelectronics Coalition Hub is led by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a public agency founded in 1982 (as the Massachusetts Technology Park Corporation) to advance Massachusetts’ technology sector. The California Defense Ready Electronics and Microdevices Superhub Hub (presumably named before it was known that ‘Hub’ would be added to all the names) is led by the University of Southern California (USC), a national leader in advanced manufacturing research.

In a briefing at the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks said, “The Microelectronics Commons is focused on bridging and accelerating the ‘lab-to-fab’ transition, that infamous valley of death between research and development and production. While America is a world leader in the innovative research and design of microelectronics, we’ve lagged in the ability to prototype, manufacture and produce them at scale. That’s what the CHIPS Act is meant to supercharge.”

Flexible hybrid electronics are likely to get a huge boost from the Microelectronics Commons funding. Image courtesy of Manufacturing USA institute NextFlex

Prototyping for microelectronics devices, as well as the packaging of those devices, could be one of the best ways for the US 3D printing sector to gain exposure to the massive scaling potential of the semiconductor industry. This, in turn, could lead to accelerated entry of 3D printing into the production of consumer electronics, as the emerging semiconductor workforce gains an increased understanding of the technologies involved, and as the underlying techniques achieve greater standardization.

The DoD’s other big announcement concerned the Defense Manufacturing Community Support Program (DMCSP), and the award of $30 million from the Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation to six manufacturing consortia. These grants are especially focused on additive manufacturing (AM), with $5 million, for example, going to an organization called America’s Additive Foundry Consortium, at the University of Texas Rio Grande.

Notably, in light of the Microelectronics Commons announcement, which sent $40 million to New York’s Northeast Regional Defense Technology Hub, two New York consortia — the Upstate Defense Consortium Project and the New York Consortium for Space Technology and Development (NYCST) — received a combined $10 million. Clearly, there is a priority to bring the manufacturing workforce back to New York State, both with and for the increased leveraging of advanced technologies.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks speaks to members of the media at the Pentagon, announcing approximately $240 million in awards for the establishment of innovation hubs, Sept. 20, 2023. Image: Air Force Tech Sgt. Jack Sanders

In a press release about the award of $30 million for the DMCSP, Dr. William LaPlante, undersecretary of defense for Acquisition and Sustainment, said, “Delivering capabilities to our warfighters at scale depends on a resilient and robust manufacturing base. This year’s awards will strengthen advanced manufacturing capabilities in defense-critical sectors while cultivating our most important resource: our people. I am confident that the collaboration with public, private, and academic partners fostered by the [DMCSP] will have a lasting impact not only on our defense industrial base, but on our national security for years to come.”

As much money as Bidenomics has already injected into the US manufacturing base, the massive public investments into US reshoring still seem rather under-appreciated, and, just gauging from personal conversations I’ve had, many onlookers seem unconvinced that the money is having/will have a real impact. On the other hand, in my recent conversation with Markforged’s CEO, Shai Terem, about the company’s launch of the Digital Source, Terem pointed out the construction boom for manufacturing that has been taking place all year as major evidence in favor of the idea that reshoring is really happening. This suggests that industry executives, at least, are fully aware of the growth trajectory that Bidenomics implies.

Terem also made a crucial point to me about just how long it takes to transform tectonic realities like global supply chains: this is a project that will consume the national attention span on the scale of decades, not years. Of course, it will also require bursts of accelerated growth to be implemented, which is why it’s important to pay attention to public spending announcements on an ongoing basis, and to synthesize the new information, as it unfolds, with the previously revealed information.

Concerning what larger picture the two announcements discussed presently are contributing to, I recommend keeping your eye on Deputy Secretary Hicks’ announcement of the replicator initiative, from about a month ago. This is a DoD effort that, according to Hicks, aims “to field attritable, autonomous systems at a scale of multiple thousands [and] in multiple domains within the next 18-to-24 months”. It would seem like this is precisely the sort of project to get the Microelectronics Commons up-and-running.

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