Scientists, industry leaders and public officials came together this week for a dialogue on innovation at The Atlantic's “From Inspiration to Innovation Summit,” held at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington, Va. Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Director Patrick Gallagher  was among the invited speakers on the panel, “Advanced Manufacturing: Made in America. . . Again?”
Responding to a question about NIST’s role in supporting manufacturing, Gallagher pointed out that the agency’s mission goes back more than 110 years. Then, and now, that mission has been to ensure that U.S. industries have the infrastructure of measurements, standards, and technology they need to be competitive in global markets, particularly manufacturing-based industries. That mission is even more important today, when so much manufacturing is tied to advanced technology, and our research and development—our ability to innovate—is deeply embedded in our manufacturing capability.
“If we were to lose manufacturing we would lose our capacity to do R&D,” said Gallagher. “We’ve got to make this an imperative.”
The federal government has a natural role in supporting manufacturing, because manufacturing is vital to our national security and economy.
“Advanced manufacturing in particular, depends on participants other than just the manufacturers,” explained Gallagher. “In real life, there are…university-based researchers, industry-based technologists and government researchers. We want to know, ‘How do we lower the friction and get these different types of participants together?’ That can be a role for the federal government because we’re here to create public benefit.”
Since 2010, the American manufacturing sector has added more than 425,000 jobs, the biggest increase in a decade, and more companies are making the decision to “in-source”—bringing jobs back to the U.S. and making products here.
To capitalize on this trend, the president’s FY 2013 budget has a strong focus on strengthening advanced manufacturing capabilities and calls for $2.2 billion for federal advanced manufacturing R&D at the National Science Foundation, Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce and other agencies, a 19 percent increase from fiscal year 2012 and over a 50 percent increase from fiscal year 2011.
Last week the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office , an interagency effort based at NIST, released a request for information , inviting interested parties to provide input on a new public-private partnership program, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). This proposed network of institutes would bring together industry, universities and community colleges, federal agencies, and regional and state organizations to accelerate innovation by investing in industrially relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications.
Efforts to develop a pilot institute are already underway, with the U.S. Air Force announcing a solicitation  for a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) Pilot Institute on Additive Manufacturing released on Tuesday. A “proposer’s day ” will be held on May 16.
As Gallagher explained to listeners at The Atlantic’s summit, “We have an obligation to make sure all the oars are pulling in the same direction, that the things we are doing as a country promote research and development, that they create advantage and opportunity.”