seal  Purdue News

May 27, 2003

Key to state's future is bold plan to advance manufacturing

Martin C. Jischke

While Purdue University is investing heavily in the technologies of the future, such as biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, genomics and information technology, we have not forgotten our historical strength in manufacturing. With our world-class engineering, management and technology schools, Purdue has a breadth and depth of manufacturing expertise second to none.

Martin C. Jischke

The university's manufacturing strength is appropriate here in Indiana, where manufacturing is the largest sector of the economy. More Hoosier workers (20 percent) are involved in manufacturing than in any other state in the union. Indiana's manufacturing prowess led us out of the recession in the '80s, but when the 2000 downturn came, it resulted in more job losses than in any other state.

Despite these setbacks, a flourishing manufacturing sector is one of the keys to building our state's economy. And the more than 400 Indiana manufacturers who came to Purdue's first advanced manufacturing summit on campus in March 2002, certainly haven't given up on Indiana as a place to make goods to sell to the world.

A year ago, James J. Solberg, Purdue's Ransburg Professor of Manufacturing, undertook a Central Indiana Corporate Partnership-financed study on the need for an advanced manufacturing institute at Purdue. Professor Solberg defined the advanced manufacturing concept as "making progress in virtually every aspect of manufacturing." The institute would help Indiana manufacturers with design methods, process technology, organizational structures and worker skills and training.

For Indiana to be successful in the globally competitive manufacturing marketplace, Solberg wrote, advanced manufacturing methods need to be instituted in large and small companies in all of the state's manufacturing sectors: automotive, food processing, electronics, steel and pharmaceuticals.

In the context of Professor Solberg's study, we listened to what the state's manufacturers told us they needed to be successful.

On May 20, Purdue's West Lafayette campus was the site for Summit 2: Advancing Manufacturing. During the summit an impressive array of voices – including Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan, Central Indiana Corporate Partnership President David Goodrich and Patrick Kiely, president and CEO of the Indiana Manufacturers Association – continued the conversation on how we can work together to advance manufacturing in Indiana.

We also announced the results of our talks with manufacturing leaders and state and federal government officials about the feasibility of establishing an advanced manufacturing institute. Almost everyone we talked to was in favor of forming an institute.

Here is what we envision the institute will be and how it will work:

The Advanced Manufacturing Institute will be a non-profit, limited-liability company, affiliated with Purdue, but incorporated as an independent organization, with a board made up of representatives from Indiana manufacturing, state government and universities. The institute will be located in the Purdue Research Park – at least initially in leased facilities – and employ 130 top engineers and scientists.

The institute will do applied research both to help Indiana companies improve products and processes and to fill needs in the crucial area between fundamental research and technology transfer and startup companies.

Once established, this institute will bring emerging technologies to Indiana manufacturers and attract manufacturing companies to the state. Ultimately, we in Indiana will have a competitive advantage in manufacturing over other states. When you put that competitive edge in manufacturing together with our strengths in the life sciences and information technology/logistics, the future of the state of Indiana begins to come more into focus.

While we have done our homework and are confident in our conclusions, in all honesty we cannot absolutely take risk out of the equation. On the other hand, there's no risk at all in watching Indiana jobs go elsewhere, our tax base erode, our cities go downhill and our educational system crumble.

An advanced manufacturing institute is a key piece in the puzzle of a prosperous future for our state and its citizens.