Commerce Department Awards Funds to Manufacturing USA Projects Focused on Pandemic Resiliency

By Matthew McMullan
The ol’ Herbert C. Hoover Building in Washington D.C., the headquarters for the U.S. Department of Commerce. Getty Images

R&D is an integral part of the productive process, we hear.

The Commerce Department on Monday announced it was doling out roughly $54 million to 13 projects “for research, development and testbeds for pandemic response” through eight of the institutes in the Manufacturing USA network. The money was made available in one of the COVID-19 recovery bills enacted in 2021.

“The breadth and variety of these awards shows that manufacturing can be an economic driver in every community,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in a release. “From creating an advanced manufacturing testbed in Appalachia, to building clean, reliable power in Native American communities, these grants are essential to creating manufacturing jobs and skills in every corner of America.”

The Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) is a long-established fan of Manufacturing USA, a network of public-private R&D facilities that each focus on specific manufacturing fields and practices. (Never forget: The Donald Trump bobblehead, made in collaboration with one of the first manufacturing hubs established under the Obama administration, that we brought to Republican National Convention in 2016). We support this effort because innovation drives productivity, and if you want more of the latter you have to have plenty of the former.

Here’s what AAM had to say about a 2019 bill that would have made it easier to fund and expand the network, for example:

Manufacturing USA’s network of manufacturing institutes is an integral part of this effort, bringing together government, industry and academia to cultivate innovation and R&D in emerging industries that can lead to good manufacturing jobs right here in the U.S. This bipartisan legislation will bolster our innovation ecosystem by extending our commitment to support Manufacturing USA, providing resources to foster greater interagency collaboration and encouraging the establishment of additional manufacturing institutes to ensure the U.S. remains on the cutting edge of manufacturing technology.

Hear, hear! Anyway, here’s a list of the projects being funded in Monday’s announcement (in order of how much dough they’re getting):

Advanced Functional Fabrics of America Inc. (AFFOA), Cambridge, Massachusetts — $11,116,420

To enable manufacturing automation and supply chain diversification, and to address the environmental impact of PPE; working with more than 12 partner organizations.

PowerAmerica (North Carolina State University), Raleigh, North Carolina — $4,982,299

To build pandemic resilience in remote, difficult to reach, underserved Native American communities through clean-energy-powered services; working with seven partner organizations.

AIM Photonics (SUNY Polytechnic Institute Research Foundation), Albany, New York — $4,974,630

To produce the first-ever inexpensive, disposable point-of-care sensors using integrated photonics to test for coronavirus and emerging viruses, increasing access without need for expensive equipment and specialized expertise that limits use in doctor’s offices, rural clinics and resource-limited environments; working with eight partner organizations.

Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing Institute (ARM), Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania — $4,933,561

To create the Robotics and Automation Decision Framework for Agility and Resilience (RADAR) that will allow small and medium-sized manufacturers to systematically evaluate the cost-to-benefit ratio of integrating robotics and automation into manufacturing processes to support coronavirus response; working with six partner organizations.

Bioindustrial Manufacturing and Design Ecosystem (BioMADE), St. Paul, Minnesota — $4,729,690

To create a domestic supply chain for vaccine manufacturing that will remove supply chain bottlenecks in manufacturing vaccine components (currently foreign-sourced) using bioindustrial processing to develop and demonstrate pilot-scale manufacturing from sustainable, domestic plant sources and train workers in the same; working with three partner organizations.

RAPID Institute (American Institute of Chemical Engineers), New York — $4,638,881

To develop a testbed for domestic manufacturing of critical pharmaceutical ingredients in the underserved Appalachian region; working with two partner organizations.

Bioindustrial Manufacturing and Design Ecosystem (BioMADE), St. Paul, Minnesota — $4,075,202

To advance innovative, proof-of-concept biomanufacturing platforms and technologies for rapid, cost-effective, distributed domestic manufacturing of antigens to use in testing and medical treatments for coronavirus, as well as a mechanism to train workers on these production approaches; working with seven other organizations.

MxD (UI Labs), Chicago — $3,880,343

To create the Rx Product Marketplace Orchestrator, an online marketplace for consumers and manufacturers of emergency health and medical goods that ensures rapid response across the supply chain to meet demand for particular items (e.g., respirators, ventilators, face masks); working with nine partner organizations.

RAPID Institute (American Institute of Chemical Engineers), New York — $3,773,536

To scale continuous manufacturing and modular production of high-quality, low-cost advanced respirators and biosensors to limit exposure to and transmission of coronavirus; working with four partner organizations.

America Makes (National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining), Youngstown, Ohio — $3,021,989

To use additive manufacturing to create a prototype of N95-level nonwoven filter materials for respiratory PPE that meets National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and U.S. Food and Drug Administration requirements and reduces dependence on foreign imports, and partner with a local community college and small and medium-sized manufacturers to train workers on this type of advanced manufacturing application; working with six partner organizations.

MxD (UI Labs), Chicago — $2,369,302

To create a privacy-protecting local health alert system to conduct contact tracing and data analysis using blockchain technology, mapping linkages between disease detection and resulting supply chain demand estimates — translating real time public health indicators into future demand signals to develop predictive capabilities for supply chain needs; working with seven partner organizations.

RAPID Institute (American Institute of Chemical Engineers), New York — $1,109,520

To develop and deploy virtual technician and operator training for advanced processes in the biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical and specialty chemical industries; working with three partner organizations.

AIM Photonics (SUNY Polytechnic Institute Research Foundation), Albany, New York — $299,149 To develop a proof of concept for disposable, lab-on-a-chip solution to COVID-19 testing using silicon photonics that does not need costly reagents or complex, large, power-consuming hardware, while offering low temperature sensitivity; working with three other organizations.