Resurgence in Manufacturing


Vice President Joseph Biden and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in July announced a new innovation hub in Rochester, New York, pinning their hopes on a grand design to boost advanced manufacturing, foster innovation for commercial use, build a high-tech talent pool, and create thousands of middle-class jobs in the United States. 


Led by the Research Foundation for the State University of New York, the American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics (AIM Photonics) is expected to hire about 100 scientists and other experts to start work on research projects in about five months. The institute is the sixth of the first nine public-private partnerships nationwide created under the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act signed into law by President Obama last December. The president in his last two State of the Union Addresses had called for the creation of a nationwide network for manufacturing innovation encompassing 45 manufacturing “institutes” over 10 years, and requested Congress to authorize investment for an initial network of up to 15 institutes. Under the president’s proposal, that investment would be matched by private and non-federal funds. 


Beginning in the early 2000s, manufacturing in the United States experienced a decade of decline that saw 40 percent of the nation’s large factories close in the wake of competition from emerging, lower-cost manufacturing centers overseas and new technologies that displaced human workers. “This institute is going to be about resurgence. It’s also about fundamentally being able to alter our infrastructure,” Vice President Biden said in announcing the Rochester innovation hub. “To compete on a global scale, America’s manufacturers need this modern infrastructure to get their products to market quickly and efficiently, whether it’s modern rail, highways, waterways, move freight or modern telecommunications networks and data centers to move information.”


As envisioned by the Obama administration, the proposed institutes will create, showcase and deploy technologies that can increase commercial productivity; help small businesses that cannot invest in advanced manufacturing research, by bringing together the best talents and capabilities from companies, universities, other academic and training institutions, and federal agencies to co-invest in cutting-edge technology; and build a pipeline of talent —hopefully comprising a sizable percentage of minorities — that can support advanced manufacturing. With $610 million in combined federal funding (notably the Department of Defense), New York state and private companies, the new institute will focus on cutting-edge research in integrated photonics —using multiple units of light, on a single platform, to improve the performance and reliability of telecommunications, radar, lasers and other technologies. It will pair photonics companies (such as Analog Photonics, Juniper Networks and OptiPro) with key end users of integrated circuits (such as Northrop Grumman for defense imagery and Hewlett Packard for high-performance computing) and top research universities (such as the University of Rochester, Boston University and the California Institute of Technology). 


In all, the federal government’s partners in the AIM Photonics include 55 private companies, 20 universities and labs, 33 community colleges and other schools, 16 nonprofit organizations (including Empire State Development’s Division of Science, Technology and Innovation – NYSTAR) and 20 states. The results of their research reportedly will revolutionize long-haul telecommunications, enabling much more resilient fiber with much greater bandwidth; slash energy costs at high-performing data centers which, countrywide, now consume almost as much power each year as the entire state of New York; drastically improve medical technology with equipment such as cameras smaller than pills that travel within arteries; and improve security operations, with applications in radar, electronic warfare, imaging, sensing, and communication systems across land, air, sea and space-based platforms.