A consortium of photonics industry members and research universities anchored by the University of Central Florida and a developing advanced manufacturing research facility in Osceola County has advanced in a federal competition for $110 million to develop an Integrated-Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI).

The Department of the Air Force notified the Photonics Research Institute for Sustainable Manufacturing (PRISM) on Wednesday that a concept paper submitted last month in response to a federal funding announcement has been selected to advance to the final level of the competition.

Team members including more than 55 industry partners and five key research universities – The University of Central Florida, Georgia Institute of Technology, the University of Alabama-Huntsville, Clemson University, the University of Illinois – will now focus on preparing an 80-page full proposal. The competition is centered on strengthening the U.S. manufacturing base by developing innovations utilizing photonics circuits and identifying and overcoming obstacles in fabrication, packaging, testing and validation.

“We are of course pleased the Air Force has recognized the capability of our consortium to lead this national effort and are now fully engaged in inviting qualified industry partners to join us as we prepare the final proposal,” said Winston Schoenfeld, PRISM director.

With confirmed interest of more than 55 companies spanning the entire value-chain of integrated photonics, Schoenfeld said PRISM is welcoming additional interested industry partners to participate in the development of an agenda of priority challenges in the evolution of integrated photonics. The full proposal is due March 31.

The DOD will award $110 million to the winner of the IP-IMI, which will bridge the gap between basic research and product development. Proposers are required to make an equal investment in the project. PRISM is anchored by $120 million in investments already committed by the University of Central Florida, Osceola County, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and Enterprise Florida in a 100,000- square-foot state of the art advanced manufacturing research facility being built in Osceola County. That facility is managed by the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research (ICAMR), a non-profit industry-led consortium.

Osceola County’s more than $61 million investment for design, construction and equipment costs associated with the facility in addition to the land, makes pursuit of the grant more feasible, officials said.

Political leaders have embraced the efforts of PRISM and ICAMR and emphasize the potential economic impact such an ambitious project will have in the region.

Congressman John Mica of Winter Park, whose district includes UCF, said that the foresight of leaders at UCF, Osceola County, the Metro Orlando EDC and the Corridor, have worked together to position PRISM to align perfectly with the nation’s needs for advanced photonics capabilities and Florida desire for more manufacturing.

Congressman Dan Webster, who represents Florida’s 10th district including part of the I-4 corridor, said “The University of Central Florida College of Optics and Photonics is a recognized leader in photonics-related R&D, and I am excited for the positive impact that this industry cluster will have on Florida’s economic stability. Photonics is a critical aspect to our national security and global competitiveness, and I am in full support of UCF’s new initiative.”

Congressman Alan Grayson, whose district includes Osceola County, expressed excitement for the possibility of manufacturing growth in Central Florida and said UCF has the strengths needed to lead the effort.

“The university is a global leader in the photonics field and it is uniquely positioned to lead this nationwide effort,” Grayson said. “An institute of this kind would be an incredible asset to the Central Florida community, bringing new employment opportunities to the area, increasing higher-wage jobs, and expanding our state’s economy.”

And Sen. Bill Nelson, who has been a consistent supporter of UCF and its research efforts, said, “This is yet another feather in UCF’s cap as the university continues to establish itself as a major research institution.”
Securing federal funding for PRISM greatly adds to the roughly 30,000 photonics-related jobs in the state, said Alex Fong, president of the Florida Photonics Cluster. While a 2009 report by The Corridor and Florida Photonics Cluster put the gross regional product at $3.65 billion and sales of these companies at $7.27 billion, the national impact of the industry rises to more than $3 trillion.

Potential partners are encouraged to contact project lead Michael Macedonia at Michael.Macedonia@ucf.edu or (407) 453-1551.