Cockrell School of Engineering receives manufacturing research grant to establish digital manufacturing lab

Kate Dannenmaier

As part of a push toward innovation in manufacturing processes, the Obama administration announced Monday the establishment of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DMDI) Institute, a program in which the Cockrell School of Engineering will play an integral role.

The research collaboration between UT and six other American universities will be funded by a $70 million grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as $250 million of outside contributions from industry, academia, government and community partners.

Digital manufacturing is the use of virtual simulation tools to design and manufacture technology more efficiently.

Engineering professors Steven Nichols and Joseph Beaman have led the Cockrell school’s effort to be selected for this program, according to Nichols, who said they teamed with other universities to prepare a proposal for DMDI, and, after technical panels reviewed it, the proposal was submitted to and chosen by President Barack Obama for inclusion in the program.

According to Nichols, specific research topics will be decided between DMDI and funding agencies from a list of exemplar topics submitted as part of UT’s proposal. Nichols said it is their intention to drive innovation in manufacturing processes and systems by creating tools that can better predict and prevent manufacturing defects.

“The tools developed in this program will increase the speed and reduce the cost of the supply chain,” Nichols said in an email. “When combined with design process improvements, this will allow the U.S. supply chain to be more lean and responsive to demand.”

Beaman said he believes the University was selected because of its previous accomplishments in the areas of manufacturing and computational research. According to Beaman, the 3-D printing method they developed is a key advanced manufacturing technology today.

“UT Austin was selected because it is a top engineering school and it has a long history of excellence in advanced manufacturing and computational analysis,” Beaman said in an email. “UT-Austin was the first academic institution to develop and commercialize additive manufacturing, sometimes called 3-D printing or direct digital manufacturing, starting in my lab in the 1980s.”

Balaji Chandrasekaran, corporate relations director of the Graduate Engineering Council, said, as a mechanical engineer turned industrial engineer, he understands the importance of improving efficiency in manufacturing.

“The fact that UT has been selected to contribute to solving such an important issue adds to my pride of being part of this great institution,” Chandrasekaran said.