New URI-led consortium will support R.I. defense manufacturing community

Statewide group, led by URI Research Foundation, awarded $5 million U.S. Department of Defense grant to launch RI MADE program

KINGSTON, R.I. – February 16, 2023 – RI MADE, a University of Rhode Island Research Foundation-led consortium designated a “Defense Manufacturing Community” this fall, has been awarded a five-year, $5 million grant by the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Local Defense Community Cooperation. The funding will be used to execute programming through the Rhode Island Manufacturing to Accelerate the Defense Ecosystem (RI MADE), a new defense manufacturing community designation supporting workforce development and the expansion of defense manufacturing in Rhode Island.

“Rhode Island manufacturers supporting the defense supply chain have seen an increase in demand and have expressed the need for automation and data analytics,” said URI Research Foundation Executive Director Christian Cowan.  “We are thrilled to provide this new program to support technology based programs that will support our ecosystem and national defense.”  According to a study from Polaris MEP, a business unit of the URI Research Foundation, the defense industry creates more than $5 billion in economic impact in the state.

The RI MADE consortium was one of only six applicants selected as a Defense Manufacturing Community in 2022. The program will be executed by Polaris MEP, in partnership with the ARM (Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing) Institute, based out of Pittsburgh, and MxD (Manufacturing x Digital), an advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity institute and innovation center based in Chicago.

Through RI MADE, the program “Assessment to Execution” will offer technical and/or capital assistance and support of up to $50,000 in the areas of risk mitigation and business practices, cyber security, and robotics and automation to more than two dozen small and medium-sized companies in Rhode Island. Funding will enable the companies to draw on the expertise of University of Rhode Island faculty and students as well as from Polaris MEP, ARM and MxD while also strengthening the state’s defense manufacturing community. Teams will function as consultants, providing assessments and working with companies to execute on the recommendations coming out of those assessments – whether it is training, additional services from the team in their area of expertise, or even acquiring necessary equipment.

Says Erik Brine, URI director of defense research and development initiatives, “This is an opportunity for participants in our defense manufacturing community to obtain valuable assistance and expertise to strengthen their companies. At the same time, we’re conducting workforce development and providing an opportunity for students – undergrad through Ph.D. – to leverage their knowledge and gain meaningful work experience that they can use to transition into full-time employment in their field.”

The program will begin in earnest in the spring with teams being able to take on clients and program participants after a competitive selection process. In the coming months, representatives from ARM and MxD will work alongside those from Polaris MEP to provide training for URI’s faculty and student teams.

“It’s a good way to pull expertise from outside of the state from two organizations well-known for their proficiency in these areas and to impart some of that knowledge on our teams that will then help take these local companies to the next level,” said Brine.

The Defense Manufacturing Community Support Program makes long-term investments in critical skills, facilities, workforce development, research and development, and small business support in order to strengthen the national security innovation base. Being designated a Defense Manufacturing Community enables Rhode Island to seek additional opportunities for federal funding to expand infrastructure, bolster research and development, and advance workforce development in the state.