The Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) is housed at UI LABS, a first-of-its-kind innovation accelerator targeted to bring industry, universities, government, and startups together at the convergence of big data, the Internet of Things, and computing. UI LABS is developing a portfolio of applied research and commercialization Labs that lead to a return on investment for its partners, improve local, regional, and national competitiveness, and transform entire industries.
DMDII’s mission is to revitalize American manufacturing by helping U.S. manufacturers harness digital advancements and data to make their products better, faster, and more cost-competitive. Leveraging an investment of more than $80 million to date from the Department of Defense, DMDII now has approximately 230 member organizations, including best-in-class global manufacturing and technology companies, over 40 universities across the U.S., and more than 140 small and midsize manufacturers and digital enterprises.
Formerly a factory, UI LABS’ 94,000 square-foot Innovation Center is located on Chicago’s Goose Island, an up-and-coming North Side tech hub favored by both local startups and e-commerce giants. To meet the needs of the DMDII consortium and forge partnerships that accelerate innovation, the design of the facility allows for convening and collaboration in many ways.
The atrium features a display of names of UI LABS partners across its two Labs: DMDII and City Digital, which focuses on urban infrastructure. The atrium area is frequently used for partner events and receptions and features advanced technologies such as windows that adjust their tint based on sunlight to regulate temperate and glare, each pane having its own IP address.
The atrium leads directly into the 24,000 square foot manufacturing floor, which features world-class equipment from DMDII’s partners. The factory floor allows partners to test and demonstrate new manufacturing technologies and is a place to show the digital thread in action. The facility features frequent tours to stakeholders ranging from large manufacturers to elementary school students and is available to the Institute’s partners for use in R&D and prototyping.
UI LABS currently employs a full-time staff of over 50 employees, along with a number of interns and talent-on-loan from member organizations. The facility features open-floor office space, creating a flexible, comfortable work environment that allows our staff and partners to collaborate and create new projects, teams, and ventures.
The Collaboration Café and Lounge provides an area within the office for informal networking. With modular tables and seating, the area is perfect for staff and visiting project teams to participate in lunch and evening events or to interact throughout the day in a comfortable and casual setting.
The UI LABS facility features numerous meeting space options, from the Innovation House (pictured above), which can fit groups of up to 200 people, to the classroom-style Knowledge Theater, which accommodates up to 75 and features tiered, elevated seating. DMDII partners and affiliated groups are able to rent space to host offsite meetings and events in these spaces to get “off campus” and draw inspiration from the unique setting.
By attracting a variety of groups across the spectrum of manufacturing, digital technologies, and entrepreneurship to its location, DMDII has become a hub in Chicago and the Midwest’s innovation ecosystem. From its home base, the Institute has had an impact that is both local and global, spurring regional economic development and establishing a widely recognized leadership role in digital manufacturing in the United States and internationally.
All photographs by Christopher Barrett