Skip to content Skip to navigation

Advanced Manufacturing Partnership: Where Does Nanomanufacturing Fit, and Where Should Investments Be Made?

Written by: 
Jeff Morse, PhD

Credit: Forbes, NNN
The announcement of the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP) by the White House last June, followed by regional workshops to identify technology approaches for U.S. government investment to create high-quality manufacturing jobs and enhance the global competitiveness, demonstrates the Obama administration’s commitment to revitalizing manufacturing in the US.  The government/academic/industry AMP collaboration convened the workshops to exchange ideas between the AMP steering committee and stakeholders including entrepreneurs, manufacturing leaders, public officials, educators, students and the general public on how best to make it in America.  Topics for discussion included technology development, education, workforce development, and shared infrastructure and facilities. The AMP steering committee heard from private sector leaders representing a wide range of manufacturing sectors and global corporations, as well as from federal and state policymakers. In evaluating the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership and the intended impact towards a sustainable and growing manufacturing base in the U.S., several aspects of the dialogue provide encouragement while quantifying the magnitude of the challenges faced. For example, workforce training at the high school and junior college levels includes new curricula and strategies, yet still faces the challenge of reinvigorating the perception of manufacturing careers for future generations. Many states have already established and begun execution of roadmaps and efforts in this area.

Creating and carrying out a long-term strategy for enhancing the U.S. manufacturing base is a complex problem. Discussions at AMP workshops included lessons learned from astute industry leaders, government panels, and academic advisors.  The hardest work now will be to correlate these views into strategies for recapturing existing markets, and more importantly, capturing new and unique opportunities in growing global markets. For solid long-term progress in manufacturing, economic development, and job creation, America must rethink the innovation cycle to be able to promote technologies and markets that involve value-added manufacturing processes and innovations within the product development cycle.  For example, in the semiconductor industry where significant industry investment in the U.S. has been made for production of high-end processing and computing chips, lower-cost and higher-volume memory technologies and their attendant jobs and GDP have typically gone offshore where global manufacturing capabilities are now fully in place.  Similar examples can be found in other industries.  While the debate on the overarching reasons behind these trends is highly involved, the need to reverse the trends has evolved to a critical juncture. The U.S. must establish a long-term strategy for regaining its global manufacturing competitiveness, particularly with respect to emerging market opportunities. Complementing this strategy must be plans for implementing goals with optimal economic benefit and highest return on strategic investments, given limited federal and state funds and resources.

Positioned squarely in the middle of these discussions are industry markets involving  nanomanufacturing and nanotechnology-enabled products.  The federal investment in nanotechnology over the past decade through the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) has positioned the US as a leader in the field, and recent reports by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology have recommended new directions and funding towards effective technology transfer and commercialization of nanotechnologies emerging from the research labs. Putting these recommendations into effect in a way that positively impacts economic development and job growth is the challenge at hand. Nanotechnology and nanomanufacturing remains a diverse, multidisciplinary technology base serving a range of industries in various forms, from the materials supply chain to intermediate producers to product integrators.  While public offerings and acquisitions of nanotechnology companies are trending up, the industries involved are still shifting within the value chain.  Regardless, we can envision the emergence of new American industries and market opportunities where nanoscale technologies, materials, and emerging nanomanufacturing processes make an impact and demonstrate enhanced functionality and lower manufacturing costs that will make their adopters globally competitive. Printed flexible electronics is a prime example of a burgeoning industry wherein significant global growth is projected, yet a concerted industrial manufacturing base still remains at the early stages. At the recent IDTechEx Printed Electronics Conference, nanomaterials and advanced nanomanufacturing processes were claimed to be increased market share in a range of consumer products. As an example, coated nanomaterial inks are now competing in the $3 billion Indium Tin Oxide (ITO) market for transparent conductors, and silver nanowire electrodes are now being delivered in Samsung’s latest touchscreen products.  Combine this with progress in the emerging technology base for flexible displays, LED lighting, higher performing printed electronics, and energy harvesting and storage, and we may be witnessing a global displacement in the consumer electronics space, wherein new products and applications requiring new manufacturing platforms and infrastructure are upon us.

With the prospect of numerous new manufacturing paradigms impacting a range of industry sectors on a global basis, it is time to assess where the most significant opportunities are for both public-private partnerships, as well as fostering new and unique private partnerships to compete at the global scale while providing sustainable manufacturing infrastructure within the US. While the possibilities are many, and the debate on how to best implement this may be long and arduous, key steps and advice have already been provided.  In terms of effective technology transfer and commercialization, recent directives to simplify licensing and technology transfer from federal laboratories will help to promote activities towards this end. This could be complimented by similar legislation governing the rules for intellectual property licensing and technology transfer for public academic institutions, and policies for encouraging entrepreneurial activities.  Regarding federal nanotechnology R&D support, while there is some concern that the US risks losing its lead in terms of government investment in nanotechnology, the bigger picture must be kept in view.  America still dominates in terms of private investment in nanotechnology, and the focus should be on quality of investment rather than quantity.  The infrastructure to encourage commercialization should be aimed to impact emerging manufacturing bases that will enhance US global competitiveness in strategic global markets.  Supporting this concept with the investment that has been made in core science, environmental health and safety, and nanomanufacturing research and development through the NNI provides a strong platform and infrastructure through which a long-term sustainable innovation cycle and manufacturing base can be established.  

As the NNN seeks to identify federal, regional, state, and local strategies towards this end, we seek comments and ideas from stakeholders in the nanotechnology community. Ideas may include targeted industries or nanomanufacturing platforms through which Advanced Manufacturing Partnership strategies may be implemented, or by which models of public-private, consortia-based or regional partnerships can be applied. Please send comments to