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Engineering Professor Xiaochun Li to serve as technical director for California arm of national project

President Barack Obama has announced a $70 million federal award to a nonprofit co-founded by UCLA to create a nationwide Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, with the goal of improving the efficiency of advanced manufacturing. Xiaochun Li, holder of UCLA’s Raytheon Chair in Manufacturing and a professor in the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Materials Science and Engineering departments, is the technical director for the institute’s California Regional Center.

The institute will be headquartered in downtown Los Angeles in partnership with the city, led by the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition. It will include a national network of five regional manufacturing centers funded by $70 million from the U.S. Department of Energy and more than $70 million in matching funds from many of the institute partners.

Obama announced the new institute June 20.

UCLA Vice Provost of Information Technology Jim Davis will remain at the university while serving as the interim executive director of the institute, and UCLA will lead the California regional center with partners such as the California Manufacturing Technology Consultants, UC Berkeley and UC Irvine.

The institute includes more than 200 partners from the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, which UCLA co-founded in 2006. Partners from more than 30 states include representatives from academia and government, as well as dozens of industry partners, including Google, Microsoft and Northrop Grumman. The new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute seeks to develop advanced manufacturing technology and support a workforce and education pipeline.

“UCLA takes its mission as a public institution very seriously, and we are excited to help bridge research, policy and practice in a way we hope can transform manufacturing that will have a positive impact on our future,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “With L.A. as the headquarters of this new institute, our goal is to unite those different elements and help all five regional centers bring innovative solutions to the whole country.”

Information technology has transformed industries like banking, health care, entertainment and transportation, but manufacturing has not yet taken advantage of the ways information technology, sensors, analytics and controls can transform the industry, Davis said. With manufacturing using roughly one-third of the nation’s energy, the institute and its headquarters will focus on bringing together untapped opportunities in manufacturing performance, next-generation information technology and the adoption of advanced technologies to impact energy efficiency.

The Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute is the ninth manufacturing hub awarded by the Obama administration. Existing hubs have begun creating next-generation semiconductors, lightweight metals for vehicles that are improving fuel efficiency, the first FDA-approved 3-D-printed medical device, and hundreds of jobs. .

The institute will provide cutting-edge education and workforce training for high-skilled occupations to enable innovation, secure an underrepresented and diverse talent pipeline, improve the business climate and advance cross-sector collaboration.

“I am particularly excited about connecting academia, industry and government together to make significant impacts in productivity, performance, technology adoption, and energy and environmental sustainability,” said Li, who joined the faculty of the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2013.

Partners include Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Manufacturing Technology Consultants, Cal State University Northridge, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, San Diego Super Computing, UC Berkeley and UC Irvine, University of Southern California and others.

This article has been adapted from a UCLA Newsroom story.