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White House launches light metal initiatives

Keywords: Tags  White House, President Obama, Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation Institute, LM3I, Alcoa, Klaus Kleinfeld, Digital Manufacutring and Design Innovation Institute, DMDII advanced composites

CHICAGO — The U.S. government plans to spend $140 million on two public-private advanced manufacturing partnerships, including one devoted to light metals.

The Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation Institute (LM3I) will be based in the Detroit area and partner aluminum, titanium and steel companies to increase the manufacturing of lighter materials for the automotive, aerospace, defense, energy and consumer product industries, President Obama said in a statement Feb. 25.

The institute will look to high-strength steels and lightweight metals to meet goals that range from boosting fuel economy in passenger cars and trucks to making defense vehicles that are strong enough to sustain bomb blasts but light enough to be carried by helicopters, he said. It also is targeting a more widespread adoption of lightweight metals in commercial production.

A total of 34 companies—including Pittsburgh-based aluminum producer Alcoa Inc.; titanium mill products company RTI International Metals Inc., Pittsburgh; and Euclid, Ohio-based Powdermet Inc., a unit of Abakan Inc., Miami—nine universities and 17 other organizations will comprise the LM3I consortium, the White House said.

"Lightweight metals are a growing and critical segment of the national manufacturing base. We’ve seen this most recently through the increased use of aluminum in the automotive industry to produce energy efficient vehicles," Alcoa chairman and chief executive officer Klaus Kleinfeld said in a statement, adding that its technical center near Pittsburgh will work closely with the new institute.

In addition, the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) will be based in Chicago and focus on new technologies that will allow for low-volume production of specialized parts, Obama said. The DMDII is necessary as product development increasingly moves away from traditional methods—drafting tables and physical prototypes—and toward digital design, he said.

Members of the DMDII include the North American Die Casting Association, Peoria, Ill.-based equipment manufacturer Caterpillar Inc., Moline, Ill.-based machinery maker Deere & Co. and Chicago-based aircraft maker Boeing Co., the White House said, also announcing a competition, led by the Department of Energy, that will award $70 million to create an advanced composites manufacturing innovation institute.

Composites could be used to slash passenger car weight by 50 percent, but energy requirements and the high cost of making composites must first be reduced dramatically, Obama said.

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