After numerous efforts to drive advanced manufacturing in the U.S. over the course of the past several years, the White House has announced a groundbreaking investment of over $530 million into ten U.S. regions recognized as emerging hubs of innovation.
The U.S. National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Regional Innovation Engines program, integral to President Biden’s Bidenomics agenda, aims to revitalize the economy from the middle out and bottom up. Each of the ten selected regions will receive $15 million in federal investment, part of the total $150 million allocated. This funding is bolstered by over $365 million in contributions from non-federal partners. Looking ahead, these engines could receive upwards of $2 billion over the next decade, with a focus on stimulating growth in various sectors such as semiconductor manufacturing, clean energy, and sustainable textiles.
The initiative was set in motion by the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, signed by President Biden in August 2022. This Act underpins the Administration’s efforts to enhance the nation’s competitive edge in the global economy through science and technology.
Highlighting the program’s impact, First Lady Jill Biden and NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan recently visited Forsyth Technical Community College to announce two North Carolina NSF Regional Innovation Engine awardees, focusing on textile manufacturing and regenerative medicine.
These NSF Regional Innovation Engines are designed to leverage regional scientific and technological strengths, fostering new industries and creating job opportunities locally. The initiative brings together a diverse consortium of private industry, venture capital, governments, educational institutions, labor unions, Tribal communities, and nonprofit organizations. The NSF Regional Innovation Engine Awardees include:
- Central Florida Semiconductor Innovation Engine, focusing on advanced semiconductor technology.
- Great Lakes Water Innovation Engine, developing smart water recovery systems.
- Louisiana Energy Transition Engine, advancing technologies for energy transition.
- North Carolina Sustainable Textiles Innovation Engine, revolutionizing the textile industry.
- North Dakota Advanced Agriculture Technology Engine, reinventing food systems.
- Paso del Norte Defense and Aerospace Innovation Engine, enhancing national security and space supply chains.
- Piedmont Triad Regenerative Medicine Engine, creating breakthrough clinical therapies.
- Colorado–Wyoming Climate Resilience Engine, focusing on climate resilience technologies.
- Southwest Sustainability Innovation Engine, tackling regional dryness and heat.
- Upstate New York Energy Storage Engine, advancing energy storage technologies.
In addition to these engines, 15 other teams are invited to pursue NSF Regional Innovation Engine Development Awards to seed future innovation and competitiveness. An interactive map is available at the NSF website that allows users to explore the programs, participants, and other details.
While all 10 of the regions could be directly connected to 3D printing in one way or another, at least 50 awards associated with the Innovation Engines program are related to robotics and advanced manufacturing. Perusing the project partners, one can find numerous existing users of additive manufacturing (AM), like Baker Hughes, and firms directly involved in the 3D printing industry, such as BASF, Brinter, EOS, and FAME 3D.
NCDMM and the Paso del Norte Engine
In particular, the non-profit that manages America Makes, the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), is collaborating with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and other regional stakeholders on the Paso del Norte Innovation for Defense and Aerospace Engine (Paso del Norte Engine). This initiative aims to integrate digital engineering to aid small and medium manufacturers in the aerospace and defense markets. The Paso del Norte Engine is set to receive up to $15 million for the first two years, with a potential NSF investment of $160 million over a decade.
NCDMM, through its subsidiary El Paso Makes, is focused on enhancing the aerospace and defense manufacturing ecosystem in the region, including providing DoD contracting assistance and investing in additive manufacturing. The Paso del Norte Engine, in line with the “CHIPS and Science Act of 2022,” will focus on five of 14 defense critical technologies identified by the DoD, including advanced materials and AI, to promote their broad dissemination for use by smaller manufacturers.
To facilitate this sprawling endeavor, the Innovation Engines program is collaborating with several federal agencies to bolster innovation and economic development across various sectors. Key partnerships include:
1. Economic Development Administration (EDA): The EDA will work with NSF to ensure that regions receiving both an NSF Engine award and a Tech Hubs designation benefit from coordinated resources and investments, avoiding duplication and enhancing impact.
2. Department of Labor (DOL): In partnership with NSF, the DOL will focus on workforce development in NSF Engines communities, adhering to Good Jobs Principles to promote job quality, worker empowerment, and equal employment opportunities.
3. Department of Energy (DOE): The DOE will collaborate with NSF’s Engines to boost the impact of climate legislation, focusing on innovation, workforce development, and community engagement in clean energy projects.
4. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): The EPA’s collaboration aims to advance technology for water efficiency, energy reduction in the water sector, and ensure water treatment technologies meet health standards.
5. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): HUD will ensure that employment opportunities created by NSF Engines align with housing accessibility and affordability, supporting sustainable and inclusive communities.
6. Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H): ARPA-H commits to connecting NSF Engines with its health innovation network, enhancing R&D for better health outcomes.
7. Department of Transportation’s ARPA-Infrastructure (ARPA-I): This agency will support NSF Engines in transportation, offering access to technical expertise, testbeds, and pilot deployments.
8. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA): NASA will collaborate with NSF Engines to support local aerospace ecosystems, offering access to its technical experts and technologies.
9. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA): NEA’s collaboration will focus on integrating arts into local ecosystems, providing technical assistance and advising on funding opportunities.
10. National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH): NEH will integrate humanities perspectives into the NSF Engine program, encouraging a broader academic reflection in technological development.
11. Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER) at the FDA: CBER commits to facilitating scientific and regulatory interactions, aiding in the advancement of product development.
12. Small Business Administration (SBA): SBA will provide technical assistance and facilitate connections between the Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program and the NSF Engines.
13. U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development: USDA will engage with rural-focused NSF Engine awardees to identify relevant programs and networks for rural community benefits.
14. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Directed Energy Directorate: AFRL will collaborate with NSF Engines to identify opportunities in materials, AM, and Directed Energy technology.
This last partnership is obviously the most directed at AM in particular, specifically directed energy deposition; however, if you can’t find room for 3D printing in every other interagency collaboration, then you may need to find work in a less relevant sector. I see plenty of opportunities for bioprinting, additive construction, and even art.
While it may not be touted as such, this program, along with the numerous other efforts initiated under the Biden Administration, is probably the closest thing to a “Green New Deal” that the public could ask for. It may be in fact that by avoiding terminology associated with the progressive wing of the Democratic party and, instead, pursuing a broader, more neutral agenda, the White House has been able to direct so much funding toward renewable energy and manufacturing.
Moreover, because other nations, including China, are following suit with their own similar programs, it looks like the world is on track for executing something along the lines of Industry 4.0—for real, this time. What remains to be seen is exactly how this vision maps onto reality and what that means for the general public and the ecosystem as a whole.
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