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Area schools to partner with new Chicago-based digital manufacturing lab

Published: Saturday, March 8, 2014 7:19 p.m. CDT
(Photo provided)
UI Labs Exectuive Director Dean Bartles, left, has been overseeing manufacturing operations at leading U.S. Defense firms for 35 years. Chief Technology Officer William King, right, is a globally recognized leader in manufacturing and design innovation. King leads a research group at the UI Urbana-Champaign College of Engineering.

BARRINGTON – Local schools are signing on as partners in the establishment of a one-of-a-kind digital manufacturing lab to be built in Goose Island, Chicago.

President Obama announced Feb. 25 that a multi-partner team, led by UI Labs, a University of Illinois nonprofit research and development organization, has been selected to receive a $70 million award from the U.S. Department of Defense for a new digital manufacturing and design institute.

An additional $250 million has been donated toward the venture by industry, government and community partners. The grand product is a $320 million digital lab that will serve as a self-sustaining research institute following an initial five-year investment, officials said.

Barrington High School and Lake County High School's Technology Campus are among a long list of the UI Labs' partner organizations, Partnership Director Jason Harris said. Partnership spans across 17 states.

Harris said the overall goal of this partnership is to make the institute's technology readily available, nation-wide.

"Partnership is free and any member of the digital lab institute will have access to our baseline information," Harris said. "If the schools wish to participate in programs or projects, we ask that they contribute at some level, whether it be human resources, technology or monetary donations."

Barrington 220 School District spokesman Jeff Arnett said this is a partnership the district will be looking at more closely in the future. The lab is projected to be complete by the end of this year. Planning has taken 18 months.

"We are on a very aggressive timeline," Harris said.

The digital lab will, in-short, be a demonstration site for showing off new technologies and research, Harris said. The products and services themselves will be in production on manufacturing sites all over the nation, such as General Electric, Rolls-Royce, Procter & Gamble, Dow, Boeing, Deere and Microsoft.

Harris said if the technology appears to be boosting these big companies, UI Labs may commercialize that service and make it available to others.

"Our partner facilities are our pilot facilities," Harris said.

An 80-to 100-person staff will be housed in Goose Island, Harris said, ranging from researchers to industry persons on loan from their companies. Harris said additional project managers will be hired, but success will come from the partnerships across the nation.

By utilizing the Digital Manufacturing Commons, an open-source online software platform, the digital lab will create online networks of people, manufacturing machines, and factories.

An official press release states that this will enable real-time collaboration and analysis of large-scale data during the design and manufacturing processes – reducing the time and cost of manufacturing, strengthening the capabilities of the U.S. supply chain and reducing acquisitions costs.

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) said the new digital lab has the potential to revolutionize the way the U.S. approaches manufacturing, with a major effort now being centered in Illinois.

The state of Illinois will "undoubtedly benefit from the thousands of jobs created through this research," Sen. Durbin said.

Gov. Pat Quinn shared Sen. Durbin's excitement.

"This first-of-its-kind digital hub will make companies more competitive and stronger by providing them with the most cutting edge tools and technologies," Quinn said. "It will be a birthplace for innovations that will change the world in which we live, work and play."

Harris said acquisition is underway as UI Labs will be an older Goose Island facility. An address is pending.

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