New institute may distribute $4M to manufacturers adopting smart technologies

The Next Level Manufacturing Institute and the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership are planning to launch a $4 million fund to help Hoosier manufacturers adopt smart technologies.

Indiana Economic Development Corp. officials prepared a contract earlier this month that could direct $4.1 million from the state’s 21st Century Research and Technology Fund to Zionsville-based Next Level Manufacturing LLC, the entity created to run the institute. If the contract is approved, Next Level Manufacturing would receive four $1 million disbursements over the next two years to provide up to $200,000 in matching grants to manufacturers implementing hardware or software that produces health care equipment or improves manufacturing capability, capacity, speed and quality.

The grants are designed to lower the barriers that manufacturers face when they try to digitize their operations by incorporating 3D printing, wireless infrastructure, energy resilience equipment, industrial internet-of-things sensors, cybersecurity and other smart technologies.

CICP referred questions to the IEDC, which said it was not ready to comment on the initiative. Next Level Manufacturing President Chad Pittman—who also serves as chief executive of economic development at the Purdue Research Foundation—was not available for comment.

A proposal and contract laying out plans for the Next Level Manufacturing Institute was live on the IEDC’s transparency portal earlier this month but has since been removed, with the contract listed as “in process.” The posting said the initiative was launching at an opportune time.

“The recent COVID-19 Virus is showing how vulnerable our supply chains and manufacturing presence have become in the U.S. These two factors are combining to create a unique threat and opportunity to the entire manufacturing sector,” the contract reads.

“These matching grants will function to expand critical knowledge and know-how, and lower the barriers to (smart manufacturing) technology adoption and healthcare manufacturing equipment procurement at a time when Indiana manufacturers are faced with unprecedented challenges and needs to deploy smart technologies in reopening the workplace in the wake of COVID-19.”

According to the posting, Next Level Manufacturing Institute funding is intended to support manufacturers introducing commercially ready technology from established vendors. Interested businesses will be required to demonstrate the employee-training requirements and wage increases generated by the use of the newly implemented technologies.

The CICP plans to form a smart manufacturing advisory committee in collaboration with the IEDC to establish the criteria for reviewing manufacturers’ applications. The proposal states the committee will  ensure diversity of industry and technical competency, strive for geographic diversity and consider regional investments.

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