Small and medium-enterprise (SME) manufacturers across all industries today attended the first in a series of three open forums to learn how they can capture the benefits of Chicago’s new $320 million Digital Lab for ManufacturingAttendees also learned about the City of Chicago’s effort to support manufacturing, and the global resource network available to assist manufacturers’ individual planning and operations. SMEs are companies that employ fewer than 500 workers. There are approximately 2,700 SMEs in Chicago alone.

“By enhancing understanding of the limitless resources, industry insights and practical applications available, the Digital Lab for Manufacturing will empower small and medium-enterprise leaders to thrive,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “These forums will connect SME manufacturers to the cutting-edge research, technology and economic benefits the nation’s only digital manufacturing lab will bring to the City.”

Earlier this year, President Obama announced that Chicago was awarded a $70 million federal grant to UI LABS to launch the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) to build a Digital Lab for Manufacturing in the city, in addition to $250 million in public-private matching funds to support the city’s winning bid. Located on Goose Island, the Digital Lab is part of a network of manufacturing partner and research sites across the United States, and is part of the Obama administration’s vision to re-invigorate U.S. manufacturing, creating new jobs and economic development, and spurring innovation. The DMDI Institute is the nation’s flagship research institute, applying cutting-edge technologies to reduce the time and cost of manufacturing, strengthen the capabilities of the U.S. supply chain, and reduce acquisition costs for the U.S. Department of Defense.

“These forums are designed to provide a vital audience – small and mid-sized companies – with the information they need to put the Digital Lab to work for their businesses and accelerate growth,” said Jeff Malehorn, President & CEO, World Business Chicago (WBC). “The Digital Lab illustrates the intersection of Mayor Emanuel’s Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs strategies to become an advanced manufacturing hub, while also fostering innovation and supporting entrepreneurship, and creating demand-driven and targeted workforce development.”

“Small and mid-sized manufacturers are critical partners in our mission to transform U.S. manufacturing,” said Caralynn Nowinski, Executive Director and COO, UI LABS, the Chicago-based research and commercialization collaborative that led the DMDI Institute proposal, “and the Digital Lab is ‘the place’ where manufacturers of all sizes can see, touch and use the latest tools designed to improve and advance productivity, where they can connect with each other and forge new customer/supplier relationships, and where they can learn how to bring these tools back to their factories.”

“Over the next 10 years, the manufacturing industry will become completely digital,” according to Dr. William P. King, who is the Chief Technology Officer at the Digital Lab for Manufacturing and the College of Engineering Bliss Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “The manufacturing companies that survive, and thrive, will know how to use networking technologies to reach new customers, and will know how to apply data analytics to improve their operations. The Digital Lab for Manufacturing is focused on applying digital manufacturing technologies to solve business problems.”

The SME Open Forums will be held in three locations throughout Chicago:

  • West Side – Wed., April 23; 8:00 a.m. – Engineered Glass Products – 955 W. Exchange Ave.
  • South Side – Fri., May 2; 8:00 a.m. – A Finkl & Sons  – 1355 E. 93rd St.
  • North Side – Wed., May 28; 8:00 a.m. – Eli’s Cheesecake – W. Forest Preserve Drive

Speakers participating in the forums include:

  • Steve Koch, Deputy Mayor, City of Chicago
  • Jeff Malehorn, President & CEO, World Business Chicago
  • Andrew J. Mooney, Commissioner, Dept. of Planning and Development, City of Chicago
  • Caralynn Nowinski, M.D., Executive Director, UI LABS
  • William P. King, Ph. D., Chief Technology Officer, Digital Lab for Manufacturing

Mayor Emanuel, along with UI LABS, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, and WBC collaborated to build an unprecedented consortium of 40 industry partners, more than 30 academia, government, and community partners and more than 500 companies and organizations to support the bid for Digital Lab for Manufacturing. This collaboration is at the core of Mayor Emanuel’s Plan for Economic Growth and Jobs, currently being implemented by WBC, a cohesive effort to provide an integrated and unified agenda and actionable initiatives for economic growth.

The forums illustrate how the Digital Lab for Manufacturing will provide small and medium sized manufacturers in Chicago with opportunities, including those to preview new technologies and tools to enable factories of the future, to access training, shared resources and expertise through the Illinois Manufacturing Lab, and to develop new relationships with suppliers and customers that will enable increased productivity and competitiveness. In addition, the Digital Lab will be a place where organizations can conduct joint R&D into digital manufacturing techniques, leveraging matching grant funding, and where SMEs in Chicago can observe and practice with the tools and equipment being developed. The Digital Lab also has the ability to connect SMEs with potential customers who have invested in the Lab and are looking for partners.

More information is available on the Digital Lab for Manufacturing website.

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