Friday, Jan. 28, 2022
Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,
“If not now, when? And if not here, where?”
It is a known fact that a vibrant manufacturing base leads to significant economic development for any region, and ours is no exception. In fact, manufacturing triggers significantly more economic activity and job creation than any other industry sector. For example, every dollar generated by manufacturing results in more than $3.50 in additional economic activity, and for every manufacturing job, more than three non-manufacturing jobs are created.
Given our Kummer mandate to “ensure economic development,” combined with our North Star goal of attaining Carnegie R1 research university status, at S&T we have set out to enhance our manufacturing research, development and innovation by engaging the manufacturing industry for us to better understand their research and development needs and aspirations. After all, as an institute of science and technology, our education must be inspired by research and our research must be inspired by industry.
In that light, the best opportunity to educate our students for manufacturing careers is for us to partner with the manufacturing industry. We must collaborate with innovative, forward-leaning companies and our partner universities to envision and invent smart factory floors, advanced automation and fully integrated supply chain systems that are enabled by the integration of sensors and sensor systems, dynamic data collection, analytics, modeling, simulation, engineering and, above all, possibility thinking.
Given that our faculty in many of our engineering and science programs conduct research at the forefront of manufacturing technologies – in areas such as additive manufacturing, steel manufacturing, aerospace technologies and biomaterials – we are already engaging many small and large advanced manufacturing companies in our state and beyond. The creation of our Manufacture Missouri Ecosystem (MME) will lead to further collaboration with our university and industry partners to better understand the future needs of today’s industry as well as the needs of future industries. Our manufacturing faculty draw on 150 years of education and research to develop key factors that lead to the successful implementation of smart and innovative technologies. Our students – the engineers, scientists and leaders of future industrial sectors – work alongside our faculty on relevant research projects, and through industry collaboration, co-ops and internships, they learn to be industry-minded, data-driven design thinkers who master the art and science of modern manufacturing product development.
To establish the MME, we hosted an advanced manufacturing research symposium on our campus in September 2020. We invited dozens of industry experts from across our state as well as federal and state officials and leaders of other Missouri universities and community colleges. Our presenters and experts shared valuable information to help prepare industry for an uncertain future, given the challenges presented by COVID-19.
State Representative Don Mayhew and State Senator Justin Brown were among our in-person attendees, and I was grateful for their involvement and support. It was a great honor to greet our invited keynote speaker, Missouri Governor Mike Parson, when he stepped on to campus that morning, and I was also pleased that he brought along a special guest, U.S. Senator Roy Blunt. Both of these leaders are strong advocates for advanced manufacturing in our state and nation, and they understand the critical role manufacturing plays for a strong Missouri economy and workforce. They also recognize the important role Missouri S&T has played throughout our history, and continues to play, in preparing the needed workforce for the challenges of tomorrow.
As I introduced our distinguished guests, I outlined the reasons Missouri S&T is poised to lead our state’s manufacturing research and development into the post-COVID world and added, “Now we need to join forces with industry, with the state and with academia. … This is the time for us to become the manufacturing center of the state of Missouri.”
I then posed two simple questions:
“If not now, when? And if not here, where?”
Those two simple questions – “If not now, when? And if not here, where?” – have become a mantra for us at S&T over the past 18 months as we share our vision for advanced manufacturing in Missouri. That vision is taking shape as we move forward with a very real, very tangible three-tiered approach to create the advanced manufacturing R&D center for our state here at S&T.
The first tier involves establishing a consortium of companies from across the state. This is the MME I referenced above. Missouri has thousands upon thousands of manufacturing companies, but the great majority of them are small – 90% have fewer than 100 employees – and do not have the bandwidth to conduct the needed research to quickly adapt to changing technological realities. Through the MME, these companies will have access to Missouri’s brightest minds, data and SKAs (skills, knowledge and abilities) – not only from S&T, but from other institutions and from the member companies themselves. They will come together to address common challenges and exchange innovative ideas, share knowledge, equipment and technology, and find the expertise they need in this “tech-know” center for all Missouri manufacturers.
The second tier of our approach involves developing a manufacturing technology and innovation campus. We envision this campus as housing facilities for companies to develop prototypes, lab space for a range of advanced manufacturing research, and space for start-ups and entrepreneurs to work and network. This longer-term effort will pay great dividends to our state and will provide hundreds of high-paying, high-skill jobs for Rolla and our region.
The third tier of creating the MME is the first building for this innovation campus: the Missouri Protoplex®. This facility will house the needed equipment, lab and meeting space, and well-equipped high-bay manufacturing space for MME members to access. Governor Parson included over $40 million toward this project in his proposed budget for the 2023 fiscal year. Earlier, our Kummer Institute Foundation pledged $50 million in private funds to match any state, federal or other private support we receive for this project. I’m very grateful to the governor for including the Protoplex in his proposed budget, and to our Kummer Institute Foundation board for their support and their commitment to Fred and June’s mandate to elevate S&T, establish broad STEM outreach and ensure economic impact.
We have come a long way since the September 2020 symposium on advanced manufacturing, where I first posed my questions to Governor Parson and Senator Blunt: “If not now, when? And if not here, where?” The MME, new innovation campus and Protoplex are becoming a reality as we continue to move toward our North Star goals and implement the Kummer mandate.
The time is now, and the place is Rolla!
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