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Advanced Manufacturing and Nanotechnology (MN)

A finished sample from Branch Technology LLC of a complex shape 3-D printed like nature.

Program director

Linda Molnar headshot

Linda Molnar

Pre-submission feedback

Submit an Executive Summary to gauge if a project meets the program's intellectual merit and commercial impact criteria. Please note that responsiveness will likely be limited in the 2 weeks leading up to the solicitation deadline.

Technology topic

Advanced Manufacturing and Nanotechnology (MN)

Advanced Manufacturing (M)

The Advanced Manufacturing subtopic aims to support all current and emerging aspects of manufacturing innovations that have the potential to develop new areas in advanced manufacturing as well as rejuvenate the nation’s manufacturing sector by improving its’ efficiency, competitiveness, and sustainability. Proposals should be driven by technological advancements that address societal/market needs and enable new opportunities for growth in manufacturing that are both environmentally friendly and compatible with human health. Proposers must identify both the end users of the proposed technology and a viable pathway to commercialization. Proposals with applicability across all sectors are welcome. Proposals that are based on commercially sustainable technical innovations that primarily aim to create positive and enduring social impact are especially encouraged.

M1. Manufacturing Technologies

Innovative technologies for the processing of a variety of single-component and multi-component materials, including biological materials, flexible electronics, ceramics, polymers, metals, alloys, and novel composites using processes such as casting, forming, machining and joining, and robotics. Proposals that lead to significantly improved efficiency (in terms of materials, energy, time, or money) and sustainability are encouraged. The topic also includes on-line detection and/or control of defects in those processes. Unique approaches using augmented reality for teaching and implementing manufacturing procedures are welcome. Proposals involving new process technologies for the production of novel materials may also include (but are not limited to) high-performance bio-materials, inorganic and composite materials, alloys, novel materials with optimized design at an atomic scale, nano- and micro-scale metallic materials, and nano-materials and metallurgical products of commercial relevance.

M2.Bio-Inspired Manufacturing

Nature has a multitude of examples of complex materials and systems that go well beyond the current capabilities of synthetic systems. Furthermore, biomimetic concepts will account for an estimated $1.2 trillion in global economic development, and have already contributed to familiar products like Velcro and wind turbines.

While industry has traditionally used “heat, beat, and treat” strategies to build products, Nature, on the other hand, manufactures at ambient temperatures and pressures, with non-toxic chemistry. Materials that are found in Nature display a wide range of properties including responsiveness to the environment, signal transmission, and the ability to adapt to and support life. Learning from Nature, or biomimicry, can be a powerful tool in designing materials, systems, and manufacturing techniques.

Further, in nature, everything is a resource and everything is recycled - one of the most fundamental attributes of sustainability. Bio-inspired manufacturing methods mimic these features and offer significant opportunities from both economic and environmental standpoints. Thus, proposals are invited that employ bio-inspired manufacturing methods to build innovative new products that have the potential to transform the manufacturing industry.

M3. Additive Manufacturing Components & Systems

Additive Manufacturing is the construction of complex three-dimensional parts from 3D digital model data by depositing successive layers of material. Innovations in materials, processes or machines that permit manufacturing through a layering process, including 3D/4D printing, to achieve fabrication of a range of products and the use of metal, polymer, ceramic, and biological materials to manufacture parts of a geometry that cannot be produced by any other manufacturing technology including near net shape products

Proposals that permit the manufacturing of complex multi-material, multi-scale and/or multi-functional products and services for superior performance and productivity are especially encouraged. This topic includes, but is not limited to, 3D printing, layered object manufacturing, selective laser sintering, selective laser melting, LENS, stereolithography, and fused deposition modeling.

Emerging areas in three-dimensional printing of complex biological structures for biological and medical applications such as tissue engineering, cognitive technologies, and the study of biomolecular function with the goal of societal benefit and improvement of human potential will also be considered.

M4. Modeling & Simulation

Innovations in the modeling and simulation of enterprise operations, manufacturing processes for intermediate or finished products, machines and equipment, predictive modeling of tooling and machine performance and discrete event simulation of manufacturing systems. Innovative approaches that bring the benefits of cloud computing and/or big data analytics to the manufacturing sector are especially encouraged. Virtual manufacturing software products that allow designers to create a three-dimensional (3-D) model of a product and then virtually test the efficiency of its performance are also relevant. Technologies enabling real-time prediction or optimization are also encouraged.

This topic includes Digital Manufacturing which aims to improve product design and manufacturing processes across the board with seamless integration of information technology systems across the supply chain. Digital manufacturing focuses on reducing the time and cost of manufacturing by integrating and using data from design, production, and product use; digitizing manufacturing operations to improve product, process, and enterprise performance, and tools for modeling and advanced analytics, throughout the product life cycle.

Another focus is the area of Smart Manufacturing which aims to reduce manufacturing costs from the perspective of real-time energy management, energy productivity, and process energy efficiency. Initiatives will create a networked data driven process platform that combines innovative modeling and simulation and advanced sensing and control. Integrates efficiency intelligence in real-time across an entire production operation with primary emphasis on minimizing energy and material use; particularly relevant for energy-intensive manufacturing sectors.

M5. Cybermanufacturing

Although web-based accessibility has both expanded and transformed most service industries, manufacturing services lag. This topic emphasizes research enabling the commercialization of software tools and systems for making manufacturing services accessible to more customers and more customers available to manufacturers. Current manufacturing software applications are predominantly costly, process-centric, general-purpose programs with the universal applicability needed to justify their development, marketing and acquisition costs. They usually have broad capabilities, but are cumbersome to learn and often provide solutions that need troubleshooting by engineering experts, a major cost of production. There is an opportunity for researchers to accelerate the creation of an interoperating, cross-process manufacturing service layer that enables the bottom-up transformation of access to manufacturing services. Projects may incorporate business models that simplify app development by users and allow the marketplace to drive the evolution towards increased capabilities. A wide range of network-accessed manufacturing services, not limited by the following examples, will be supported:

• Tools that are transparent to users and make it easy for manufacturers to present computer-aided design (CAD) files to conventional browsers in parameterized form, allowing customers to select desired parameters within limits set by the manufacturer to guarantee easy manufacturability; • Search utilities that link user needs to manufacturing services by evaluating the closeness of match of customer designs to the web-accessible part designs made available by manufacturers; • Product-specific applications (or “apps”) that simplify the low-cost design, customization or manufacture of products or product components by restricting the design space to guarantee the intervention-free execution of the entire design-to-production process;

M6. Personalized Manufacturing / Maker Manufacturing / Maker to Manufacturer

Proposals centered on innovative, new-to-the-world manufacturing methods and machines leading to mass customization are invited. The applications may include (but are not limited to) health-related products, clothing, footwear, furniture, ear buds, headbands, hearing aids etc. The resultant products may need to be cost competitive with the relevant mass manufactured products. Proposals may include development of software-as-a-service or workflow-as-a-service tools to assist young personalized manufacturing businesses. Makers represent a wellspring of innovation, creating new products and often manufacturing them. Proposals having roots in such activities, involving innovations in one or more stages of design, engineering, and manufacturing and having significant commercialization potential are solicited. Commercially sustainable ideas that seek to address significant local, national, or global societal problems (e.g., energy/water/ resource conservation, youth unemployment), or enable spreading of citizen science through such innovations are especially encouraged.

Proposals are invited that are focused on innovative, high-risk technologies that hold the potential to enable small-, medium-, and large-volume manufacturing of cutting-edge, high-value added products leveraging the maker movement. This may include hardware, software, knowledge transfer platforms, and other innovations.

M7. Transportation Technologies

Proposed projects might include (but are not limited to) the reduction of engine emissions; the reduction of greenhouse gases resulting from combustion; vehicle weight reduction; vehicle components; improved engine and fuel efficiency; reduction of SOx, NOx, and particulates resulting from combustion; reduction in wear and environmental pollutants. Projects may include technologies of commercial importance for low-temperature combustion, flexible fuel and fuel blends for automotive applications, improved atomizers and ignition characteristics, low heat-loss (coatings, materials, etc.) engines, on-board energy harvesting (e.g., thermoelectric generators), energy conversion and storage, improved catalyst systems, and other alternative technologies to improve fuel efficiency, reduce energy loss, and reduce environmental emissions; advanced batteries for transportation, including radically new battery systems or breakthroughs based on existing systems with a focus on high-energy density and high-power density batteries suitable for transportation applications. Companies developing cyberphysical systems that provide the foundation necessary for safe, efficient highway transportation systems connecting vehicles, infrastructure, people, and goods in a vibrant, competitive economy will also be considered. The development and commercialization of entirely new modes of transportation such as autonomous vehicles, vehicles powered by sustainable energy and the development of smart and connected communities are also of interest.

M8. Human-Centric Industrial Technologies

New technologies that sense surroundings and learn from data are bringing intelligence to service systems, allowing them to center on people by incorporating individuals’ feedback and input. These systems create more value through adaptive and individualized interactions. From healthcare to transportation to advanced manufacturing, service systems make our lives safer, easier and more productive on a daily basis.

Thus, this subtopic seeks proposals aimed at combining the reach of the internet with new ability to directly connect and seamlessly integrate the modern industrial landscape defined by machines, factories, farmlands, and infrastructure. Such proposals may aim at (but are not limited to) development of innovative technologies that would promote creation of entirely new types of industrial jobs requiring complementary human-digital workforce, and create desired products and services at the right scale, speed, and level of personalization.

We seek to support innovative new companies to create and commercialize new service systems that are not only smart, but human-centric. By definition, a human-centered service system interacts with people – end users, recipients, beneficiaries, providers and/or decision makers – as it operates.

M9. Manufacturing for Emerging Markets

Transformative technological innovations that enable the manufacturing of ultra-low-cost products designed to tap into the vast commercial potential of global underserved markets. The proposals must aim to produce products that are affordable and that have significant societal impact in the intended markets such as enhancing accessibility, reducing environmental impact, improving health, etc.

M10. Sustainable Manufacturing Technology

Proposals may cover technologies that present new process and system design paradigms, employ internet-of-things to dynamically optimize complex industrial manufacturing processes, enhance environmental sustainability with reductions in carbon footprint and/or water usage, and promote the sourcing, use, and recycle of materials and energy streams; technologies that take a systems approach to green engineering for industrial, residential, and commercial infrastructure, industrial manufacturing infrastructure design innovations; novel tools for the real-time analysis of system performance and the dynamic global optimization of system performance; innovations in technologies for the improved efficiency, control; new technologies (involving materials, sensors, devices, and control systems) that support smart infrastructures to ensure efficient and sustainable energy transmission, distribution, monitoring, and management. This topic includes Rare Earths and Critical Materials Processing Technology. Proposals of interest would involve production technologies enabling the development of new sources for rare earths, metals, and critical materials of strategic national importance; improving the economics of existing sources; accelerating the development and deployment of alternatives to rare earths and critical materials currently in use; technologies and processes for more efficient use in manufacturing; recycling and reuse; new processes for critical and strategic metals and minerals extraction; novel purification processes; recycle and recovery by separation of rare earths and strategic materials from waste; novel ways to reduce the amount of critical materials currently utilized in current and emerging technology products.

Nanotechnology (N)

The Nanotechnology subtopic addresses the creation and manipulation of functional materials, devices, and systems with novel properties and functions that are achieved through the control of matter at a submicroscopic scale (from a fraction of nanometer to about 100 nanometers). Proposals should be driven by market needs and demand and should identify both the end users of the proposed technology and the pathway to commercialization. Proposals that are based on commercially sustainable technical innovations that primarily aim to create positive and enduring social impact are also encouraged.

N1. Nanomaterials

Proposals may include material innovations in design, scalable synthesis, purification, and processing techniques for the development of innovative hierarchical nanostructures, nanolayered structures, nanowires, nanotubes, quantum dots, nanoparticles, nanofibers, and other nanomaterials and biomaterials and their composite structures. This topic includes rational design using artificial intelligence and other methods to develop materials which are environmentally stable and economically scalable with broad application across industries.

N2. Nanomanufacturing

Proposals that seek to develop innovative processes, including self-assembly, nanolithography, nano-patterning, nano-texturing, nano-3D printing etc., techniques, and equipment for the low-cost, large-area or continuous manufacturing of nano-to micro-scale structures and their assembly/integration into higher order systems are encouraged. Proposals are sought that develop methods for the reliable, economic, and safe mass production of nanostructures that could lead to new technologies in electronics, biotechnology and medicine, energy, and materials including the use of biological materials and robotics for building new structures. Bio-nanomanufacturing, molecular programming and molecular robotics for applications and scale-up of the use of DNA in areas such as nanaosenors, spectroscopy, imaging, and devices for industrial, environmental, and medical applications.

N3. Nanotechnology Based Solutions to Grand Challenges

Proposals focusing on global technological challenges through development of innovative nanotechnologies are solicited. Examples of such challenges include (but not limited to) desalination of seawater to solve the emerging water crisis, solar energy collection, storage, and conversion for contributing to energy solutions for the future, solid-state refrigeration for reducing global greenhouse emissions and conversion of atmospheric CO2 to useful products.