Mill 19 Hub to Advance Manufacturing Innovation

by Ruth Seeley

While Pittsburgh wasn’t the worst-hit city in the transition from Factory Belt to Rust Belt, initiatives to reverse the area’s economic downturn have been top of mind for three Pittsburgh foundations for almost two decades. The Richard King Mellon (RKM) Foundation, The Heinz Endowments, and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation purchased the dormant site of one of Pittsburgh’s most productive steel mills in 2002. Their goal: to create a new platform for experimentation to advance Pittsburgh’s evolving innovation economy.

With the opening in early September of a hub for Carnegie Mellon University researchers and robots, the newly constructed Mill 19 building on the 178-acre site known as Hazelwood Green is a state-of-the-art facility that will help usher in a new era of manufacturing.

Anchor tenants include the nonprofit Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM), which was catalyzed by Carnegie Mellon, and CMU’s Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI). The Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC) owns Mill 19. 

ARM launched in January of 2017 after receiving an $80-million grant from the Department of Defense. Before Mill 19, its headquarters operated out of Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center. The nonprofit’s goal is to take new technologies and accelerate their adoption into commercialization, while catalyzing the workforce development programs to ensure that the United States has a skilled workforce for emerging technologies.

As part of the Manufacturing USA network, the creation of ARM puts Pittsburgh and CMU at the center of a new wave of U.S. manufacturing innovation, leveraging artificial intelligence, autonomy, 3D printing and other emerging technologies to make industrial and collaborative robotics more affordable for businesses of all sizes, adaptable for many uses and able to achieve more.

“Mill 19 gives us a home to prototype and advance new technologies,” said Brett Lambert, chair of ARM’s board of directors. “Research institutes and technology companies in the United States are great at creating innovation, but manufacturers sometimes hesitate putting brand-new technology on the factory floor because it carries operational and financial risk. Our purpose is to de-risk those applications, helping manufacturers feel comfortable putting new technologies to work. And, our state-of-the-art training center will also facilitate educational programs to advance the skills of the American manufacturing employee.”

With more than 200 members, ARM prepares American companies to achieve global leadership in innovation by equipping workers with the best technological tools and workforce programs. ARM also will help small businesses that have been shut out of previous robotics advances to adapt the newest technologies to their needs, further building the manufacturing base and promoting innovation.

Also co-located at Mill 19, MFI was launched in 2017 after receiving a $20-million gift from the RKM Foundation. MFI brings Carnegie Mellon researchers together to advance discovery in the areas of machine intelligence, manufacturing technologies and human intelligence. The initiative builds on CMU’s strength in research and development. It aims to attract public and private sector partners to push advanced manufacturing research, bridge the gap between manufacturing research and industrial use and foster economic development in the region and the state.

“CMU’s core activities in education and research are focused on invention, discovery and relentless innovation,” said MFI Faculty Director Gary Fedder. “MFI will serve as the mechanism through which we create new technologies that ARM will then introduce to industry and bring out into the real world for transformative impact.”

Mill 19 will function as a collaborative innovation space for MFI and ARM. The two organizations occupy the first two floors of the building and nearly 60,000 square feet. The space includes a high bay and a corridor of flexible lab bays, as well as a conferencing and workforce training center. Catalyst Connection, southwestern Pennsylvania’s manufacturing extension partner, is moving its headquarters to the third floor of the Mill 19 building in November of 2019. The organization serves as a resource for small and medium manufacturers in the region, and will collaborate with both MFI and ARM.

“We are excited to be able to provide a home for students, faculty, government and industry partners alike to come together to foster revolutionary ideas in the field of manufacturing and are committed to making this a vibrant resource,” said Sandra DeVincent Wolf, executive director of MFI. “The opening of Mill 19 is a bold next step, one that will serve to further the vision of transforming manufacturing and catalyzing economic development in Pittsburgh and beyond.”

Both MFI and ARM are working with neighborhood organizations such as the Hazelwood Initiative to realize a vision for the development that will create opportunity while promoting diversity and economic sustainability.

In July, Carnegie Mellon announced that it acquired options for an additional 8.3 acres on the Hazelwood Green site for possible expansion. The university plans to establish a committee to explore potential uses for the area, working closely with the community and in collaboration with the Greater Hazelwood Neighborhood Plan.

Source: Carnegie Mellon University

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