July 7, 2020 – PITTSBURGH, PA and GAITHERSBURG, MD – The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded $3.4 million in grants to support high-impact projects for the COVID-19 pandemic response, with funding authorized by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The funding was provided to ARM (Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing) Institute and three additional national Manufacturing USA® Institutes.
ARM worked with its members this past spring to collect manufacturing-focused robotics proposals to respond to this NIST project call for COVID-19 mitigation. From this project call, a technology project submitted by ARM Member Wilder Systems was selected by NIST for funding.
This Commerce-funded project will develop, integrate and deliver collaborative robots to automate part of the COVID-19 testing process, with expected availability within 4 months after the project begins. Once samples are collected and delivered to the Lab, cobots will manage RNA isolation and run multiple polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analyzers. There are an estimated 100,000 PCR analyzers in every U.S. hospital and university, but insufficient technicians to test at full equipment capacity. If all university PCR in America ran at full capacity, 24 million additional tests per day could be conducted. Automating existing on-premises PCR equipment using FDA-approved test protocols will increase national testing capabilities, shorten result turnaround by days, optimize human capital, reduce virus exposure risks, and save American lives.
In addition, ARM released an accelerated Technology Project Call on June 29, 2020 seeking additional proposals from its members to develop robotics solutions to mitigate COVID-19 and help the Department of Defense respond to this pandemic. As the pandemic has evolved, so have the areas of need; this project call seeks to quickly address focus areas identified by the Department of Defense. ARM plans to award a total of $5M in additional DoD funding from this project call with proposals due on July 13, 2020. Learn more here.
The overall NIST CARES Act funding goes to four Manufacturing USA Institutes, which are public-private partnerships working with academic and private sector manufacturing organizations on advanced research and development and advanced manufacturing skills training. Each institute focuses on an advanced manufacturing specialty such as biopharmaceuticals, 3D printing, robotics, or wearable sensors.
“I am pleased we have quickly provided these CARES Act funds to support the innovative projects contributing to our COVID-19 response efforts at the public-private Manufacturing USA institutes,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “When we operate at the ‘speed of business’ and work collaboratively across the government in partnership with the private sector, we achieve great things for our nation.”
“The collaborative programs these institutes have built since the launch of Manufacturing USA have resulted in powerful networks including universities, inventors and manufacturers,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter G. Copan. “These partnerships have allowed them to rapidly respond to the current pandemic with projects to expand production of needed medical countermeasures, provide workforce training, increase testing capacity and help manufacturers prepare for the future.”
The following projects were competitively awarded based on technical merit and impact related to the COVID-19 national emergency:
Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing: Collaborative Robots for COVID-19 Testing
The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute will receive more than $600,000 to develop a safe method to use collaborative robots to automate part of the COVID-19 testing process. Current testing capacity is limited by the number of technicians in the U.S. By augmenting the limited labor force with robots, the project seeks to increase the number of tests conducted at hospital and university labs and minimize exposure to medical personnel. Wilder Systems will work with ARM on the project.
America Makes: Building Partnerships to Increase Production of Medical Equipment
The $1.4 million award will allow American Makes, in partnership with MxD: The Digital Manufacturing Institute, to expand production of medical countermeasure components such as personal protective equipment (PPE) using additive and digital manufacturing technologies. The effort builds on the Advanced Manufacturing Crisis Production Response project, launched in March 2020 with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health and Veterans Affairs Administration. The project provides a central place for health care providers to request equipment, manufacturers to offer capability, and for designers to upload product designs. This award will enable the team to bring in more collaborators; develop a strategic roadmap to prioritize and address select COVID-19 crisis needs; extend manufacturing capabilities and impact; and develop a virtual workforce training program.
LIFT: Operation Next Training for Pandemic Recovery
With its $1 million award, LIFT will train 250 workers in the Pittsburgh and Detroit areas in CNC machine operations, industrial technology maintenance, welding and robotics. Leveraging a successful program that trains separating military personnel, LIFT’s new online training will reskill/upskill civilian workers impacted by the pandemic. It will also provide resources and support to their manufacturing employers as they manage their pandemic recovery. The project will engage small and medium manufacturers through Catalyst Connection, part of the Pennsylvania Manufacturing Extension Partnership and the Workforce Intelligence Network for Southeast Michigan.
BioFabUSA: Technology Roadmapping for Pandemic Response and Recovery
ARMI|BioFabUSA will receive $400,000 to develop and share a roadmap for organizations to follow for pandemic response and recovery. The roadmap will identify and prioritize key needs, including those related to: supply chain issues to enable increased production of PPE, test kits, and vaccines; manufacturing production to decrease times for vaccine manufacturing; and rapid delivery of test kits and vaccines to the right places. BioFabUSA will partner with federal, private sector and academic organizations and publicly release the roadmap in three months.
The Manufacturing USA institutes and their sponsors — the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Defense and Energy — connect more than 2,000 organizations across hundreds of major projects to quickly move technology from laboratory prototypes to industrial capabilities and provide thousands of people with advanced manufacturing knowledge and skills. To learn more, visit www.ManufacturingUSA.com.
NIST, a non-regulatory agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, promotes U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. To learn more about NIST, visit NIST.gov.
ABOUT ARM PROJECTS
Upon its inception in 2017, ARM received an initial tranche of $80M from the United States Department of Defense to fund programs that develop, demonstrate, and accelerate the early adoption of novel robotic technology and workforce development solutions to:
- Assert U.S. leadership in advanced robotics for manufacturing
- Empower American workers to be cost-competitive with low-wage workers abroad
- Lower the technical, operational, and economic barriers to adopt robotics technologies
- Aid in the creation of new jobs to secure U.S. national prosperity.
ARM projects require that at least one industry organization participates on each project to ensure that the outputs are relevant, applicable, and impactful. The projects are selected by a team of ARM members and partners spanning government, industry, and academia. Only ARM members can participate in projects. Visit www.arminstitute.org to learn about membership.
The Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute catalyzes robotics and workforce solutions to strengthen the US industrial base. Structured as a public-private partnership, ARM is funded by the Department of Defense and works with its 240+ member organizations that span government, industry, and academia to secure our nation’s future. The ARM Institute is part of the Manufacturing USA® network. Learn more at www.arminstitute.org.