Mill 19 opens, aiming to be an “extension of campus”

Soon, Carnegie Mellon’s Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI) and Carnegie Mellon partner Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) will occupy a new facility, Mill 19, alongside other manufacturers. The facility will be a place for MFI and ARM to collaborate, as well as many other purposes.

Mill 19, owned by the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC), is situated in Hazelwood Green, a 178-acre site once home to Pittsburgh’s leading steel mills. Now, much of Mill 19 will be leased to Carnegie Mellon, and a prospective 8.3-acre expansion in Hazelwood Green is in Carnegie Mellon’s hands. Both MFI and ARM will be situated on the first and second floor of the building, occupying nearly 60,000 square feet.

Carnegie Mellon has had its sights on the area since before Mill 19 was built, signing MFI and ARM on as anchor tenants before the first building had even been constructed. In total, Mill 19 will be comprised of three buildings, forming a 264,000 square foot complex.

Particularly unique to Mill 19’s architecture is that the steel frame of its former steel mill will be maintained. The new construction of Mill 19 is done entirely within the steel frame, something Carnegie Mellon says symbolizes the industrial past and future of Pittsburgh.

As for Carnegie Mellon and its partners’ initiatives, the facility will be a place to prototype and advance new technologies for manufacturing. Previously, work of this sort was being done by ARM at Carnegie Mellon’s Lawrenceville-based National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC).

The creation of ARM happens to have been catalyzed by Carnegie Mellon itself. According to Jay Douglass, Chief Operating Officer for ARM, it was Carnegie Mellon that authored the proposal which resulted in ARM’s creation by the United States’ Department of Defense. To date, ARM has funded over 40 projects, three of which have been in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon.

Douglass stated, “Our mission is to fund development projects that can be shared with our members to move U.S. manufacturing competitiveness forward.” He made sure to note that “CMU is one of the top robotics research institutions in the world. As such, it makes great sense for us to be partnered.”

On future plans for Mill 19, Douglass said, “We are going to be conducting our own research and development in robotics for manufacturing and installing test cells for a variety of robotics applications. We all plan to provide a de-risking capability for some of our local members as well as the [Department of Defense]. Our roommate here at Mill 19 is the CMU Manufacturing Futures Initiative, and we have several projects planned to collaborate on with them.”

With Carnegie Mellon, ARM will be working on a set of training curriculum for robotic technicians and a metal grinding application for tight spaces, Douglass told The Tartan. On a broader scale, ARM has helped Carnegie Mellon and the city of Pittsburgh become leaders in manufacturing innovation, focused on technologies like AI, autonomy, 3D printing, and robotics.

MFI director Gary Fedder told The Tartan that the MFI will be running major advanced manufacturing projects driven by industry needs, requiring industry collaboration. Partner companies at Mill 19 will be donating or consigning equipment as well as sponsoring projects.

“Many of these projects will take the form of ‘workcells’ where some problem in robotics or automation of manufacturing is being explored and ‘de-risked’ for eventual industry use,” said Fedder. “CMU envisions that these workcells not only will serve the needs of the immediate project, but also serve as a testbed resource for secondary spin-off projects — for example in ‘digital twinning’ technology, in human-robot interaction, in energy use, in cybersecurity, or in workforce development.”

While MFI partner ARM has made good use of the NREC, Fedder explained the uniqueness of Mill 19: “An important distinction between Mill 19 and NREC is the intent that Mill 19 is a more open facility that is seen as an extension of campus. We envision substantial numbers of undergraduate and graduate students doing research at Mill 19. Historically, while NREC has run a host of exciting projects, much of its focus has been on the development of autonomous platforms for all sorts of sectors: e.g., military, autonomous vehicles, mining, construction, and farming.”

On the partnership between MFI and ARM, Fedder said, “Our two organizations are complementary and synergistic. CMU researchers primarily work to discover, invent and innovate to explore new ideas and areas. ARM’s mission is to bridge the gap between ideas and inventions to de-risk technology for manufacturers. So the combination of ARM and CMU at Mill 19 is quite powerful.”