Carnegie Mellon University to build robotics and manufacturing centers at defunct steel mill

A $150 million grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation will help build the new spaces envisioned as partnering with the local community to spur economic revitalization.

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CMU's Mill 19 facility at Hazelwood Green in Pittsburgh.

Image: Carnegie Mellon University

Thanks to a $150 million grant from the R.K. Mellon Foundation, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) is set to construct a new on-campus science center, as well as develop its investment at Hazelwood Green through expansion of its robotics innovation and materials/manufacturing programs. 

The grant is the largest in the history of the R.K. Mellon foundation, and CMU said it will help accelerate sciences, manufacturing and robotics, three fields that it said have been key to Pittsburgh's 21st economic revitalization.

"Pittsburgh's future — and the future of U.S. innovation and global competitiveness — are inextricably linked to scientific and technological advances, and how well organizations, communities and industries can stay ahead of the rapid pace of change," said CMU president Farnam Jahanian. 

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The on-campus science center will include classrooms, teaching labs and other shared spaces designed to further collaboration between scientific disciplines, something that CMU said is increasingly important in the modern growth of science and technology. 

Over at Hazelwood Green, a project to revitalize a vacant industrial space in the Hazelwood neighborhood of Pittsburgh into a sustainable, inclusive economic center, the proposed robotics facility and expansion of the already present Manufacturing Futures Institute (MFI) will move into Mill 19, where CMU has constructed new buildings in the shell of a former steel mill. 

The robotics program is already a tenant at Mill 19 along with the MFI, but the grant will help it build a new 150,000-square-foot facility that will allow it to remain close to MFI for collaboration. The new facility will include reconfigurable high bays, testing facilities, a large-footprint testing area, and other flexible spaces designed to accommodate robotics programs of different scales. 

Along with university-use space, the new facility will also include pre-incubator facilities for future CMU-affiliated robotics companies. Martial Hebert, dean of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science, said that technologies developed at the new facility "will ripple across every part of our society and economy, impacting fields including health care, transportation, national security, education, agriculture and retail." 

The Manufacturing Futures Institute, for its part, will be given an endowment to sustain its projects as well as develop new materials and manufacturing equipment and processes, experiment with additive manufacturing, fuel startups and spinoff companies, and expand training programs into the Pittsburgh region. 

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Part of MFI's plan is to partner with small and medium-sized businesses in the Pittsburgh area to help the city continue to grow from an economically challenged former steel hub into "a humming engine of innovation for advanced manufacturing," said MFI director Gary Fedder. Fedder said that MFI hopes to expand its impact to move the entire nation toward sustainable, future-focused manufacturing. 

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