Texas ChE Provides Key Leadership for New Smart Manufacturing Institute

Group photo of Drs. Edgar and Baldea with graduate students involved in Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute Texas ChE Professor Tom Edgar’s leadership in clean energy research recently helped secure $140 million for a new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute that will improve the efficiency of advanced manufacturing systems and deliver dramatic energy savings nationwide.

Edgar is a co-founder and the current treasurer of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), an industry-academic cooperative organization that will oversee the institute in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. The SMLC, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, has established a consortium of nearly 200 partners from across academia, industry, and non-profits from more than 30 states to launch the initiative.

Announced by President Barack Obama in June, the institute will operate five regional manufacturing research centers across the country that will spur advances in smart sensors, data analytics, and digital process controls to modernize the current U.S. manufacturing industry and reduce energy expenses. Each of these centers will focus on manufacturing tied to their regional industries all the while delivering local technology transfer and workforce development within their communities.

“Advances made by the institute’s work aim to reduce costs of current manufacturing systems and technologies by half,” said Tom Edgar. “Not only will these efforts improve plant efficiency, but these innovations will further drive the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing and attract more investment and jobs from around the world.”

Edgar has been at the forefront of efforts in smart manufacturing research since SMLC’s inception when it was co-founded by UT Austin and UCLA 10 years ago.  He also leads an ongoing $10.8 million research program – the largest DOE-funded project of its kind – which helped inform the scope of the new institute.

The University of Texas at Austin will partner with Texas A&M University and Tulane University to run the Gulf Coast center focused on manufacturing improvements for the chemical, oil and gas sectors.

As director of UT Austin’s Energy Institute, Edgar will work alongside other Texas Engineering faculty and graduate students on related research for the institute.  Faculty like Texas ChE’s Michael Baldea and mechanical engineering’s Joe Beaman, D.K. Ezekoye, and Vince Torres will utilize advanced sensors, real-time data analytics and controls and advanced high fidelity modeling embedded in an open software platform to determine and demonstrate significant energy savings in existing large plants using industrial-scale test beds.

“UT Austin researchers possess an exceptionally broad complement of expertise and are uniquely equipped to develop and deploy today the tools that will make for smarter manufacturing tomorrow,” said Baldea. “We scrutinize the systems involved in the processing of renewable or petrochemical feedstock, take them apart virtually and imagine and implement changes that make them more efficient and sustainable.

“In our group, we are able to analyze massive amounts of operating data—including unconventional ones such as video feeds— and employ the results to build predictive models, which are then used for making optimal design and operating decisions. Combine these capabilities with a cloud-based platform for data exchange and high performance computing that we developed with our collaborators, and we have a smart manufacturing framework that establishes access of US-based manufacturing enterprises, large and small, to the most advanced and energy efficient operating technologies.”

Other regional centers part of the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute include: a California center run by The University of California, Los Angeles in partnership with the city of Los Angeles focused on energy production issues; a Northeast center overseen by the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute focused on glass, ceramic and microelectronics manufacturing; a Northwest center lead by the Pacific Northwest Library focused on manufacturing related to food processing, advanced materials and forest products; and a Southeast center managed by North Carolina State University focused on pulp and paper industries, carbon fiber, primary metals, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other industries.

Read the White House’s fact sheet on this initiative or view a video.

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