Warren Hunt

Although it may not be considered a “nightly newsworthy” issue in Washington, nascent efforts to strengthen our materials and manufacturing capabilities are critical to our nation’s economic engine. Over the past few years, in a very difficult budget environment, the White House has announced the Materials Genome Initiative as well as the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Both have the potential to move the needle, but how they are going about it differs in ways that will strongly influence their chances of success.

The Materials Genome Initiative, or MGI, seeks to provide the tools and infrastructure needed to discover, develop, and deploy materials two times faster and at a fraction of the cost. Under the leadership of the White House Office of Science and Technology and Policy and with help from key federal agencies, MGI plans to leverage the work that the businesses, universities, and government organizations of the materials community are already doing to develop this key Materials Innovation Infrastructure. As a result, the success of this decentralized initiative depends largely on the materials community’s ability and willingness to break out of their traditional silos and start working together. Unless the materials community can break its pattern of acting independently, this opportunity may pass without the realization of what could be possible.

The National Network for Manufacturing Innovation takes a very different approach than MGI. This network, which went through highly visible pilot testing, combines expertise from the National Program Office with a well-defined set of objectives and a plan for moving forward based on extensive input from the community. Documented in a report entitled “National Network for Manufacturing Innovation: A Preliminary Design,” the network lays out a path forward to bridge the gap between fundamental research and commercialization by establishing Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation (IMIs). The report suggests that topics for future IMIs should come from the proposing groups themselves and that these groups should be led by industry—both keys to success in materials innovation. President Obama’s statement in the 2013 State of the Union address that three more IMIs are on the way for FY13 indicates that this network is well on track.

Two initiatives, two different approaches to advancing our materials and manufacturing future. A real opportunity for learning.