University News

WIU Part of $70 Million Dept. of Defense Grant Project

February 25, 2014

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MACOMB/MOLINE, IL -- Western Illinois University has been named a partner institution as part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Defense for the University of Illinois (UI LABS) Digital Lab for Manufacturing, based in Chicago.

The $70 million cooperative agreement from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), which was formally awarded by President Barack Obama today (Feb. 25), is leveraged by commitments of $250 million from industry, academia, government and community partners, forming the $320 million Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation (DMDI) Institute. The investment is part of President Obama's National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) to re-invigorate U.S. manufacturing, creating new jobs and economic development and spurring future innovation.

The digital lab is an applied research institute that will both develop and demonstrate digital manufacturing technologies and deploy and commercialize these technologies across key manufacturing industries. According to Caralynn Nowinski, interim executive director of the digital lab, the Digital Lab for Manufacturing will be the nation's flagship research institute for digital manufacturing and design innovation. Areas of focus include advanced analysis, intelligent machining and advanced manufacturing enterprise.

WIU, which is one of 23 university partners (and one of five Illinois public universities), will run demonstration projects and make items and parts at the QCML, based on designs developed through the institute. The number of students from Western's School of Engineering working at the QCML will increase significantly with the projects from the institute, and the projects will provide additional internship opportunities for students, as well as senior design projects, according to School of Engineering Director Bill Pratt. These activities will immerse engineering students in technology development and technology transfer.

"We are extremely honored, and excited, to have Western Illinois University as a part of this project," said WIU President Jack Thomas. "At Western, we make great things happen. Our ability to contribute our resources and expertise allowed Western Illinois University to become a partner in this federal initiative. This program will provide our students with invaluable experiences, make a great contribution to this nation's economic base and help make Western's School of Engineering and the Quad Cities Manufacturing Lab more renowned."

In June 2013, Western Illinois University and the University of Illinois joined forces, along with the Quad Cities Manufacturing Laboratory (QCML) and the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce, to further economic development and educational opportunities within the region, the state and beyond Illinois' borders. The QCML works with numerous agencies, manufacturers and more to facilitate technology transfer, and also serves as a development hub for small businesses. The Quad Cities Manufacturing Laboratory, which was established in 2005, is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization headquartered at the Rock Island Arsenal.

According to WIU College of Business and Technology Dean Tom Erekson, this partnership helped set the stage for the competitive DoD grant process. As part of the application process, a project proposal between the QCML, which is staffed by WIU's School of Engineering faculty, and Sivyer Steel of Bettendorf, IA, was included.

"Only three projects were described in the proposal as examples of what the institute could do, and one of the three is the WIU/QCML project with Sivyer Steel," Erekson said.

According to Pratt, the focus of Western's first project with Sivyer Steel, which was included in the DoD grant application, is to automate the company's processes.

"Western's first engineering graduate Derek Bloomfield, who is an employee at Sivyer, is working on this project. Sivyer Steel, Western Illinois University's School of Engineering and our Quad City Manufacturing Lab are literally the tip of the manufacturing spear in this enterprise," Pratt added. "We are very excited about being a partner with UI-Labs and part of the DMDI Consortium. This brings together leading-edge research on digital vision, intelligent machining and the digitalization of the manufacturing supply chain. Our role will be to integrate the developments and disseminate the discoveries to our regional partners, including the Rock Island Arsenal's Joint Manufacturing & Technology Center."

For more information on the Quad Cities Manufacturing Laboratory, visit For more information on the Digital Lab for Manufacturing, visit

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