President Obama selected an LA-based manufacturing hub this week to lead an effort aimed at making companies more competitive globally by helping them consume less energy and produce less pollution.
A consortium of researchers in Los Angeles will coordinate the work of five regional centers — one at UCLA and outposts in Texas, New York, Washington and North Carolina. Dozens of companies across the country will participate and invest in the initiative, including Google, Microsoft and Northrop Grumman.
The initiative will get $70 million from the Department of Energy and $70 million from private companies and state entities.
The private-public partnership will develop smart sensors to make all types of manufacturing more efficient, Obama said at a conference designed to showcase investment opportunities in the United States.
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The U.S. manufacturing sector has added over 800,000 jobs since February 2010. The industry has benefited greatly from lower natural gas prices. Obama said the creation of the manufacturing hub highlights how the United States is “running up the score” when it comes to the innovation edge companies enjoy when doing business there.
“The world is smaller than it used to be because of innovation,” Obama said, adding: “that is something that can work for everyone if we do it right.”
Administration officials said the manufacturing industry consumes about a third of the nation’s energy. Chemical production and steel manufacturing are examples of two industries with large energy costs that could benefit through new technological breakthroughs.
“One should realize that the future’s manufacturing jobs are fundamentally IT jobs,” Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said.
Obama said he recognized that people are concerned about how innovation and trade are leaving some people behind, but globalization also leads to opportunities for nations to learn from each other. He said “innovation spreading and connecting the globe promises prosperity and reductions in poverty and, ultimately, less likelihood of war and violence and conflict.”
One of the LA-based hub’s goals is to develop advanced sensors that monitor the use of energy in manufacturing and make the software available on an open-source platform so that the code used to create the sensors is broadly available.
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“We are entering a sensor world,” said Lynn Orr, the undersecretary for science and energy. He said it has become much cheaper even for households to use “smart” tech to regulate their consumption of electricity, heat and water. “What we are trying to do here is to apply and use those techniques more effectively to make manufacturing more efficient, more productive,” Orr said.
Manufacturers use about a third of the energy consumed in the country, he said. Sensors can help commercial manufacturers do things like transfer the energy used to heat a piece of equipment into cooling it down or figure out exactly what part of their process is sucking up the most energy.