The primary challenge for most of these initiatives has been whether the participants can secure sufficient governmental backing to launch and initially operate the hubs. Some lawmakers have concerns whether the hubs can become self-sufficient in an appropriate amount of time, particularly as other constituencies clamor for limited federal dollars at a time of record deficits. But supporters point to fledging initiatives that are showing early signs of success.
In 2012, Siemens Charlotte Energy Hub in North Carolina was featured in the President’s State of the Union address. The Charlotte facility is the Germany-based Siemens AG’s worldwide hub for 60Hz fossil power generation equipment manufacturing and service, with additional capabilities for the 50Hz market.
Opened in 1969, the facility has manufactured and serviced generators and steam turbines for the power generation market for decades. In November 2011, the facility was expanded, adding gas turbine production and service capabilities. The expansion, along with other facility improvements, represents a $350 million total investment and nearly 1,000 additional jobs. Since 2008, Siemens has exported more than $800 million of power generation equipment, and its newly expanded gas turbine manufacturing capabilities will contribute more than $200 million a year to its exports.
In September, Siemens announced that it had given Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, NC a $32 million in-kind software grant, providing the college with access to the company’s product life-cycle management software, known as PLM. Central Piedmont will use the technology to develop new course offerings related to advanced manufacturing, mechatronics, robotics and information technology, as well as mechanical, electrical, civil and electronics engineering. This will, in turn, enable the college to produce more highly-skilled workers and better position the Charlotte region for recruiting businesses.
Last month, the Bay Area Advanced Manufacturing (BAAM) hub was launched in San Leandro, Calif., comprised of a coalition of San Francisco Bay Area companies engaged in 3D Printing “seeking to make it as easy as possible to go from idea to object … by integrating products, services and solutions into a common, seamless user experience.”
Espen Sivertsen, chief executive of Type A Machines in San Leandro, took the initiative to create the coalition of non-competing companies looking to connect products and services, and share market insights, technology and partnerships, according to the hub’s new website.
To support BAAM, Type A Machines is building modular hardware and software, providing third-party developers a professional platform for their solutions. Partnering members are quickly following suit, and BAAM now hosts “a thriving startup ecosystem” of 3D scanners, 3D printers, materials, filament recycling, mobile fab labs, modeling services and printing services.
According to the 2013 report, “Remaking Federalism, Renewing the Economy” by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, it’s difficult for corporations on their own to sustain applied research initiatives, due to the traditional corporate emphasis on shorter-term rates of return that depress investments in longer-term R&D and innovation.
However, one hurdle that needs to be crossed is the assumption by Congress that new technologies “emerge automatically” from advances in science and have the capability to commercialize themselves in the marketplace.
The Brookings report’s authors contend these assumptions are short-sighted, particularly in contrast to higher investments by other nations that raise “serious questions about the nation’s ability to maintain its advanced industries lead in the coming years.” While U.S. R&D intensity increased by a modest 10.4% between 1995 to 2008, it increased by 20.5% in Germany, 42.2% in Korea, 135.1% in Singapore, and a staggering 170.2% in China, according to the report.
The authors advocate for Congress to approve funding for the build-out of a national network of advanced innovation hubs, expanding on “the modest beginnings” of the Department of Energy’s Energy Innovation Hubs program and the Department of Commerce’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation initiative.
“The creation and appropriate funding of at least 25 such hubs would greatly accelerate the pace of innovation and new-product development in the nation’s advanced industries and so strengthen their long-term competitiveness,” the authors say.