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Indiana University Makes Landmark $111M Investment in Microelectronics Advanced Manufacturing to Support Naval Crane DivisionCrane

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Indiana University (IU) has announced that it will invest at least $111 million over the next several years into emerging technologies, including a variety of advanced manufacturing techniques, with a particular emphasis on microelectronics and nanotechnology. Among other objectives, the investment is intended to bolster IU’s collaboration with Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC), Crane Division, headquartered at Naval Support Activity (NSA) Crane, less than an hour from IU’s campus in Bloomington.

One of the largest single investments by a US research university into semiconductor manufacturing, the funding reinforces IU 2030: The Indiana University Strategic Plan, announced in April 2023. The three-pronged strategy revolves around tailoring IU’s R&D efforts to maximize the potential of the institution and its graduates to contribute to the state, national, and global economies.

As such, the funding is spread evenly across the full range of university objectives: $23.5 million over the next five years, for instance, will go towards hiring 25 new faculty members in microelectronics, nanotechnology, and associated technologies including AI/ML and cybersecurity. IU plans to target hires with DoD experience, especially individuals versed in developing dual-use technologies — those equally applicable to commercial sectors and the defense market.

Similarly, $53.5 million is slated for upgrades to IU laboratories and facilities that will optimize the university’s ability to secure federal grants and contracts, and to work together with personnel from NSWC Crane. And $13.5 million will help implement new IU degree programs, announced earlier in 2023, for microelectronics and nanofabrication, also a key goal in IU’s partnership with NSWC Crane.

Image courtesy of NSWC Crane

In a press release about IU’s historic $111 million investment into advanced manufacturing R&D for the US semiconductor ecosystem, IU’s VP for Research, Russell Mumper, said, “The elevated importance of NSWC Crane’s mission has created new and robust opportunities for dramatically advancing the longstanding and highly productive IU-Crane partnership, accelerating innovative solutions to national security challenges and ensuring that Indiana is at the forefront of the critical industries of today and tomorrow.”

NSWC’s technical director, Angela D. Lewis, said, “As our nation continues to confront new and emerging defense challenges, strengthening our research capabilities, advancing innovative new technologies and developing a highly trained workforce will be critical to the future of US security. We are appreciative of commitments like [IU’s] investment in a wide range of visionary programs and initiatives that will enhance the economic vitality, defense and protection of the nation, while continuing the advancement of the IU-NSWC Crane partnership.”

Image courtesy of IU

The partnership between NSWC Crane and IU began in 2011, and has been re-affirmed and expanded multiple times since then, including most recently in April 2023. NSWC Crane specializes in providing engineering and technical support for “sensors, electronics, electronic warfare and special warfare systems,” suggesting the vast opportunities on the horizon at IU for additively manufactured electronics (AME).

NSWC Crane also announced six contracts in January 2022 for AM prototypes relevant to the Navy’s Additive Manufacturing for Technology Protection (AMTP) Consortium, fleshing out further the possible roles that 3D printing will play in IU’s collaboration with Crane. Finally, perhaps most significantly, IU’s announcement comes about two weeks after the Silicon Crossroads Microelectronics Commons Hub, led by Indiana’s Applied Research Institute, was awarded $32.9 million via the CHIPS and Science Act by DoD. This was part of the $240 million total specifically devoted to creating eight regional US innovation hubs, collectively referred to as the Microelectronics Commons.

As much as macro uncertainty may still be the global economy’s most dominant theme, there is simultaneously also a pile of data accumulating that illustrates the future trajectory of the US economy in great detail. IU’s announcement is one of the most striking examples of this: at least in terms of its most cutting-edge sectors, the future US economy can be expected to look very much like what will be going on at IU over the next few years.

Public-private partnerships are more important than they’ve ever been, and research institutions and vocational training programs are at the forefront of that trend. Beyond the microelectronics sector itself, the most important thing to keep an eye on going forward will be how the knowledge and personnel from that sector filters into the rest of the economy. Every major industry is a major customer for/partner of the semiconductor sector, so the kind of workforce and infrastructure being built up at IU is guaranteed to have an impact on markets like EVs and clean energy, as well.

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