Chicago digital lab officially announced by Obama

On Tuesday, President Obama announced the creation of a new digital hub in Chicago.
February 25, 2014 8:21:48 PM PST
President Barack Obama has awarded Chicago with a $70 million grant from the Department of Defense to build a Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute.

The city hopes the Digital Lab will be the nation's flagship research institute in digital manufacturing and change research and engineering growth in the Midwest. The Digital Lab will apply computing technologies to address the manufacturing challenges faced by the Department of Defense and across the country. The computing technologies of the Digital Lab will include mobile computing, cloud computing, and high-performance computing, the city said.

Three other hubs will be built in Canton, Michigan, near Detroit, Youngstown, Ohio and Raleigh, N.C.

Obama says the hubs will keep America at the cutting edge of technology and innovation. He says that will help ensure the steady creation of good-paying jobs in advanced manufacturing that will help expand the middle class.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Governor Pat Quinn, Senator Dick Durbin, Senator Mark Kirk, representatives from UI Labs and World Business Chicago, and various industry partners who supported the winning bid were at the White House for the announcement.

Chicago beat out several other cities to get this facility. Emanuel said landing the lab is like winning an Olympic gold medal.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who compared the lab to an Olympic gold medal, and Governor Pat Quinn, whose Illinois manufacturing lab laid the groundwork for the winning bid, were ecstatic.

"We started Illinois Manufacturing Lab with the University of Illinois. Our state invested in this and this helped us win the grant from the federal government," Gov. Quinn said.

The digital lab's experts drawn from universities and private firms will use powerful computers to research, innovate and develop techniques for use by manufacturers big and small.

"These discoveries and problems that get solved in that institute flow out into the manufacturing chain and they go all the way down to the 20 person machining shop in Chicago," said Adam Pollet, Illinois Dept. of Commerce.

"Does that mean more businesses in Illinois, does that mean more jobs in Illinois. And I think the obvious answer is yes," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois.

Durbin, who hosted other Illinois elected officials in his office Tuesday morning, agreed with the others that the digital lab will attract companies to the region.

"People want to be on the front door where the newest designs are coming the newest innovations are coming," Emanuel said.

"It's something that the whole state can use even though its located in the city of Chicago," said Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Chicago and south suburbs.

The mayor invited two CPS high school students to the event. They say they will have their job prospects improved by the digital lab in Chicago.

"If we put all these things together we can accomplish a lot," said Darvon Smith, Sarah E. Goode Stem Academy.

It took 18 months to develop the vision and plan for the lab. The effort was led by the mayor, UI Labs and World Business Chicago. Local universities also contributed to the effort. And support for the lab is coming from big companies like GE, Lockheed Martin, Rolls Royce and Boeing.

Durbin announced Saturday that the DoD awarded the grant to UI Labs, a partnership between public and private groups, including universities and manufacturers, which adds to the $250 million that UI Labs has already raised for the research hub.

The new national Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute, or "Digital Lab," will research ways to make American factories more efficient and improve military readiness. Durbin says the lab will revolutionize the way the country approaches manufacturing. He also says research done at the lab will make America more competitive on a global stage.

President Barack Obama proposed the manufacturing institutes last year.

The lab, to be built on the northern end of Goose Island, will offer a state-of-the art research and development facility to companies large and small, as they seek to harness the potential of so-called big data and supercomputing to solve centuries-old manufacturing dilemmas.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., discussed the new lab during a Sunday news conference held in the Merchandise Mart at 1871, a hub for digital startup companies. It will be formally presented Tuesday by President Barack Obama at the White House.

If all goes well, the brainpower it will draw to the region could help reinvigorate the city's manufacturing sector, Emanuel said. That could also position Chicago to rival other technology hubs, like the Research Triangle in North Carolina, or Silicon Valley in California, officials said.

"This is a whole new way of manufacturing," Emanuel said. "You have to take an idea and get it to market with speed. That is why this research capacity, from a design standpoint, is so essential to putting Chicago and Illinois at the cutting edge."

The facility, which will be operated UI Labs, a non-profit spinoff of the University of Illinois, could be the advent of a new era in manufacturing, slashing the time it takes to get new products from concept stage to storefront.

"All these [manufacturing] problems are worth revisiting with this new technology," Bill King, a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who oversaw the winning bid.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.


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