NC State Partner Institutes Bolster U.S. Manufacturing Industry
A strong manufacturing industry in the United States leads to steady jobs, increased gross domestic product, healthy supply chains and a secure military. Recognizing the United States’ need to compete in a global manufacturing marketplace, Congress established the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation in 2014. Known as Manufacturing USA, this network brings together academic, industry and government partners to build up manufacturing technology in diverse areas.
NC State University, a powerhouse in research and innovation, is a top Manufacturing USA partner. We’ve been part of seven manufacturing institutes — only one other academic institution has worked with so many.
We have a vast knowledge base, shown by the breadth of sectors we’re involved with: power distribution, textiles, biomanufacturing and manufacturing technology. Our extensive research infrastructure bolsters our expertise; NC State’s Centennial Campus is home to cutting-edge labs, centers and core facilities. With these assets, NC State plays a key role in strengthening U.S. manufacturing capabilities.
Here’s how we’re building up American manufacturing, sector by sector.
PowerAmerica is ushering in the next generation of efficient electrification by working with its 82 members to accelerate commercialization of power semiconductor chips and the electronics they enable. It’s the only Manufacturing USA institute managed by an academic partner: NC State.
Semiconductor chips are used in numerous ways, including vehicles, data centers, consumer electronics, appliances, military defense systems. PowerAmerica’s work focuses on efficient wide-bandgap semiconductor chips, which support higher voltages, frequencies and temperatures than those of traditional semiconductor materials. To boost U.S. semiconductor research and development, the CHIPS and Science Act was signed in 2022.
PowerAmerica has already brought about advances in semiconductor technology. As its lead institution, NC State enables PowerAmerica to develop research projects, administer proposals and advocate for its dozens of members.
“PowerAmerica is a national center that serves the country,” said Victor Veliadis, PowerAmerica’s executive director and an NC State electrical engineering professor. “The work we do in fabricating chips has been successful — they don’t leave our shores, and they don’t need to be reshored.”
We offer resources primed to support PowerAmerica. The Future Renewable Electric Energy Delivery and Management (FREEDM) Systems Engineering Research Center, based on Centennial Campus, leads other national universities in improving the security and sustainability of electric grids. And under NC State’s administrative leadership, PowerAmerica is a self-sustaining manufacturing institute funded by and advocating for its members.
“When you run a big program and you do well, it tells the government, ‘You come to NC State, you’re going to be successful,’” Veliadis said.
The biomanufacturing industry uses cells from living organisms to make products that other processes cannot or to replace unsustainable processes. It’s a vital industry in North Carolina especially — dozens of biomanufacturing companies have built locations in the Research Triangle area. As North Carolina’s flagship STEM university, NC State plays a key role in building up the next generation of biomanufacturing leaders.
We have the infrastructure to grow a powerful biomanufacturing industry on the state and national level. The Golden LEAF Biomanufacturing Training and Education Center (BTEC), located on Centennial Campus, offers training opportunities and develops skilled professionals for the industry’s workforce. The Biotechnology Program (BIT) studies the molecular side of biotechnology, and the Genetic Engineering and Society Center (GES) examines societal implications of genetic engineering used in biomanufacturing. Together, these units offer a dynamic, interdisciplinary approach to supporting our biomanufacturing institutes.
The National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals (NIIMBL), uses biomanufacturing technology to create medicines and vaccines. Its goal is to discover and implement new technologies that will make pharmaceuticals safer, more available worldwide, and more efficient to produce. As a partner, NC State has worked on projects with mRNA vaccines, adeno-associated virus vectors, host-cell proteins and more. NIIMBL also develops and conducts workforce training opportunities.
“From the consumer end of things, we’re hoping these biological drugs, which are currently very expensive and hard to maintain, are more accessible worldwide,” said Ruben Carbonell, NIIMBL’s senior technology strategist and the Frank Hawkins Kenan Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “This research hopefully will also make U.S. companies more profitable and competitive.”
The institute BioMADE works to grow industrial biomanufacturing by building new technologies, bolstering a prepared workforce and creating economic opportunities. As a BioMADE partner, NC State is developing a comprehensive online course for students and professionals alike. The course will cover the fundamentals of biomanufacturing processes and examine the current and future state of bioindustries.
“I hope that BioMADE can help to create greater awareness of industrial biomanufacturing,” said Gary Gilleskie, executive director of BTEC. “It’s a growing field, offers many advantages over production by chemical synthesis, and it’s a very important industry to our geographical area.”
Our third partner is the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, which uses biotechnology to create human and animal tissues. At NC State researchers examined how to assess tissues’ quality during the manufacturing process. They created a software interface and bioreactor to culture tissues and monitor them as they matured.
The project ended in 2021, but our research plays an important role in the entire biomanufacturing process.
“This shows the diversity of projects in manufacturing,” said Rohan Shirwaiker, a professor and University Scholar at NC State’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. “You usually think of physical products and processes, but quality monitoring is at the core of manufacturing.”
Textiles are increasingly infused with technology, whether it’s protecting military service members or monitoring heart rates during exercise. As a member of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA), NC State combines research with workforce development to advance this progress.
The Wilson College of Textiles is already a leader in American textile research and manufacturing. As the world’s premier hub for textiles education, research and innovation, the college has made its mark in the industry, both by preparing graduates for the field and by conducting cutting-edge research and innovation.
“The textile industry trusts us and knows we can deliver,” said Xiangwu Zhang, the college’s associate dean for research.
The college’s extension unit, Zeis Textiles Extension for Economic Development, bolsters the industry by training textile employees and producing textile-based prototypes. It goes a step further working with AFFOA to advance the U.S. textile industry’s ability to incorporate advanced fabrics and smart devices into products through innovative training programs and research. The faculty in the Wilson College of Textiles also collaborate with AFFOA to develop next-generation functional textiles and textile-based systems.
There are two main investors in advanced fabrics, Zhang said: the military and exercise-savvy consumers. At NC State, researchers work to improve many characteristics of materials to enhance their performance and functionality, like moisture management for body armor. Protective gear doesn’t easily let moisture out, which is uncomfortable for the military service members who wear them. Researchers are also studying how to integrate and test functional fibers and yarns in fabric on a large scale for various applications.
“We understand fabrics inside out,” Zhang said.
Advanced manufacturing is intertwined in North Carolina’s history; the state has led manufacturing-based industries like textiles, furniture and electronics. Smart Manufacturing uses technologies like robotics, advanced sensor systems and big data to optimize production. This advanced type of manufacturing not only improves efficiency but also allows operations to respond to evolving circumstances.
NC State is a partner in two related institutes. The Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII) develops technology like smart sensors that can reduce energy expenses in advanced manufacturing. Rapid Advancement in Process Intensification Deployment (RAPID) improves efficiency in process industries by developing modular chemical process-intensification technology, which involves approaches like combining types of manufacturing steps or using only-as-much-as-needed, site-specific processes instead of shipping large amounts of materials from a remote, larger-scale plant.
The university has the experience, infrastructure and expertise to build up smart manufacturing technologies in North Carolina.
“NC State’s intellectual strengths are an important part of our involvement,” said Phil Westmoreland, a professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “We have a strong background in manufacturing here in North Carolina, now supported by our university expertise in polymers, pharmaceuticals and biofuels. NC State also has a heritage of producing industry-ready graduates, especially from our engineering departments.”
As a CESMII and RAPID partner, NC State melds its skills in academic research and manufacturing know-how. The Nonwovens Institute, Center for Additive Manufacturing and Logistics, and Paper Science and Engineering degree program already integrate academia and manufacturing in different industries.
“NC State has long had industrial liaison activity,” Westmoreland said. “NC State’s agricultural and industrial extensions have been a key part of the university’s DNA.”