LOWELL, Mass. – A group of Massachusetts research institutions and organizations led by UMass Lowell has received a $3.3 million federal grant to continue its efforts to ensure the Commonwealth is prepared to face the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, future pandemics and other public health crises.
Through UMass Lowell, the project has been awarded a $3.3 million CARES Act grant by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA). The funding will go to continue the production of personal protective equipment (PPE), expand into other medical supplies, devices and equipment, and to develop related training and curriculum with the goal of creating new jobs and economic opportunities following the pandemic.
The group’s work builds on the work of the Massachusetts Manufacturing Emergency Response Team (MERT), an effort launched in 2020 to help Massachusetts manufacturers pivot to produce critical items for the fight against COVID-19. Since March 2020, MERT-assisted companies produced over 15 million pieces of PPE, ventilators and other critical items.
This latest effort, MERT 2.0, will create a sustainable network to support the Massachusetts and regional manufacturing ecosystem, building on the work conducted by the first MERT, made up of universities, industry and government. MERT 2.0 will help address continued demand for new medical protection and testing supplies, with masks and testing becoming essential to reopening workplaces, and will also help fill gaps and strengthen connections critical to supporting future domestic production and supply chain capacity.
“This EDA grant will help bring together the combined assets of our Massachusetts ecosystem – great research universities, state and nonprofit economic development drivers and federal partners – to support the growth of the startups and small and medium manufacturers who make up our domestic supply chain,” said Julie Chen, UMass Lowell’s vice chancellor for research, innovation and economic development. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we all learned how important this supply chain is to our community. By establishing a network to assist these companies in connecting to prototyping and small-lot manufacturing, technical experts, business and market analysis experts, workforce development, and other suppliers and customers, we will create a foundation for an agile and resilient technology-and manufacturing-based economy.”
UMass Lowell’s strategic partners in MERT 2.0 are the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech), Massachusetts Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MassMEP), FORGE, MassRobotics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) and Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA).
“The impacts and lessons of the last year are still fresh in our minds, including the challenges around PPE supply,” said Carolyn Kirk, executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state economic development agency. “This new federal award will help us to build on those lessons, developing new programs to strengthen our supply chains and to help prepare Massachusetts manufacturers to respond to future needs of our health care system. UMass Lowell, with its deep engineering and manufacturing expertise, is a perfect home for this new program.”
MERT 2.0’s work will include addressing recovery and resiliency by strengthening the domestic supply chain in Massachusetts and the Northeast region for manufacturing personal protective equipment, medical devices such as ventilators, and medical test kits. MERT 2.0 will also support workforce development and manufacturing through development of training and curriculum related to this supply chain. MERT 2.0 also includes critical infrastructure in the form of testing and prototyping facilities.
“The MERT effort emerged during the Commonwealth’s initial COVID-19 response from the existing trust and organizational infrastructure of the advanced manufacturing community in Massachusetts, which stepped up in a big way. This EDA grant enables the continuation and expansion of this work to continue to strengthen the manufacturing ecosystem in a very community-connected way,” said Ben Linville-Engler, industry and certificate director for MIT’s System Design and Management program.
“COVID-19 forced all of us to rethink what we do, the services we provide and our ability to respond in a time of great need,” said Sara Saberi, WPI assistant professor of industrial engineering. “We have identified new opportunities that will allow us to become more agile, efficient and better prepared. There is more work to be done and WPI is proud to be part of the team identifying these critical capabilities for the future.”
“We are excited to be contributing to this important initiative; this grant will enable AFFOA to continue assisting regional manufacturers in producing critical PPE products, further strengthening our domestic supply chain resiliency and US manufacturing,” said Alexander M. Stolyarov, Ph.D., chief executive officer of Advanced Functional Fabrics of America (AFFOA).
“MassRobotics is excited to continue work with the region’s small and mid-sized manufacturers,” said Tom Ryden, MassRobotics executive director. “Through our programming and events, we help bring together innovative startups and existing technology organizations to nurture the next generation of talent and promote economic growth in Massachusetts. We believe robotic automation is capable of having a direct impact on business needs, and we’re fortunate to help spur that innovation with grants like this.”
“MERT 2.0 is comprised of organizations that collectively became a machine pivoting Massachusetts manufacturers to produce much needed PPE for Massachusetts health care and emergency response workers,” said John Killam, MassMEP president. “In the following 12 months, Massachusetts produced greater than 15 million pieces of PPE and is on track to produce 110 million pieces built a year. MassMEP provided the key connections and led deployment of resources to the manufacturers pivoting. Participating in the planning and execution of MERT turned into a very rewarding experience for MassMEP. I am very thankful for the MassMEP team who made this their top priority.”
“FORGE is grateful to the advocacy and efforts of regional leaders including Rep. Tom Golden and UMass Lowell Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development Julie Chen. The important work to respond to the pandemic, including that of the Massachusetts Emergency Response Team (MERT), has underscored how crucial thriving manufacturing and innovation are to our ability to come through black swan events like the COVID-19. These ecosystems are now more collaborative than ever here in the Commonwealth and FORGE is proud to be a part of the MERT 2.0 project which will ensure we continue to leverage lessons learned to strengthen innovative manufacturing and agile production in the state,” said Laura Teicher, executive director of FORGE. “In line with our mission of helping innovators navigate the journey from physical prototype through to commercialization and impact at scale, FORGE will build regional engagement through events and provide concierge support for engaging startups and innovators, providing guidance to them to right-fit resources, expertise, and testing, prototyping and manufacturing services.”
An informational meeting for how small and medium manufacturers can apply for access to resources such as expert consultants, prototyping and testing, and workforce development will be held in the summer. More information will be posted at http://www.uml.edu/research/fdc/.
UMass Lowell is a national research university offering its more than 18,000 students bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in business, education, engineering, fine arts, health, humanities, sciences and social sciences. UMass Lowell delivers high-quality…