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Texas Engineer Provides Key Leadership for New Smart Manufacturing Institute

Cockrell School of Engineering professor Tom Edgar’s leadership in clean energy research helped to secure more than $140 million in public-private investment for a new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute that will improve the efficiency of advanced manufacturing systems and deliver dramatic energy savings nationwide. Cockrell School of Engineering professor Tom Edgar’s leadership in clean energy research helped to secure more than $140 million in public-private investment for a new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute that will improve the efficiency of advanced manufacturing systems and deliver dramatic energy savings nationwide.

Edgar is a co-founder and the current treasurer of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC), an industry-academic cooperative organization that will oversee the new institute in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy. The SMLC, headquartered in Los Angeles, California, established a consortium of nearly 200 academic, industry and nonprofit partners from more than 30 states to launch the initiative.

Announced by President Barack Obama in June, the institute will operate five regional manufacturing research centers across the country that will spur advances in smart sensors, data analytics and digital process controls to modernize the U.S. manufacturing industry and reduce energy expenses. Each of these centers will focus on manufacturing tied to their regional industries while delivering local technology transfer and workforce development within their communities.

“Advances made by the institute’s work aim to reduce costs of current manufacturing systems and technologies by half,” Edgar said. “Not only will these efforts improve plant efficiency, but these innovations will further drive the resurgence of U.S. manufacturing and attract more investment and jobs from around the world.”

Edgar has been at the forefront of efforts in smart manufacturing research since SMLC was co-founded by UT Austin and UCLA a decade ago years ago. He also leads an ongoing SMLC research program — the largest Department of Energy-funded project of its kind — focused on developing the nation’s first open smart-manufacturing technology platform for collaborative industrial networked information applications. That work helped inform the scope of the new institute.

For this new project, UT Austin will partner with Texas A&M University and Tulane University to run the Gulf Coast center, which is focused on manufacturing improvements for the chemical, oil and gas sectors.

As director of UT Austin’s Energy Institute, Edgar will work alongside other Texas Engineering faculty and graduate students on related research for the institute. Faculty including Michael Baldea, Joe Beaman, D.K. Ezekoye and Vince Torres will utilize advanced sensors, real-time data analytics and controls and advanced high-fidelity modeling embedded in an open software platform to determine and demonstrate significant energy savings in existing large plants using industrial-scale test beds.

“UT Austin researchers possess an exceptionally broad range of expertise and are uniquely equipped to develop and deploy the tools today that will make for smarter manufacturing tomorrow,” Baldea said. “We scrutinize the systems involved in the processing of renewable or petrochemical feedstock, take them apart virtually and imagine and implement changes that make them more efficient and sustainable.”

Baldea said the UT Austin team is able to analyze massive amounts of operating data — including unconventional data such as video feeds — and employ the results to build predictive models, which are then used for making optimal design and operating decisions.

“Combine these capabilities with a cloud-based platform for data exchange and high-performance computing that we developed with our collaborators, and we have a smart manufacturing framework that establishes the access of U.S.-based manufacturing enterprises, large and small, to the most advanced and energy-efficient operating technologies,” Baldea said.

Read the White House’s fact sheet on this initiative.