Montana Awarded Federal Grant to Assist Manufacturers with Advanced Technologies to Improve Facility Operations and Efficiency


HELENA—The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is pleased to announce that Montana will receive a $2 million grant from the US Department of Energy under the State Manufacturing Leadership Program. DEQ, in partnership with the Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) and Highlands College, will launch a Smart Manufacturing Technologies Outreach Initiative to help Montana manufacturers access and implement advanced technologies to improve facility operations and efficiency. As part of the initiative, Highlands College will offer a certificate program to develop a workforce with skills necessary to continue upgrading manufacturing technologies into the future. 


“I look forward to celebrating the great results of this partnership and investment that will strengthen our Montana workforce,” Gov. Gianforte said. “We will continue to support our Montana manufacturers that grow our economy and create more good paying jobs.”


Advanced technologies can help create efficient production processes that in turn conserve energy and water, saving money and resources over time. DEQ applied for the grant on behalf of the state.


“Montana is proud to be one of only 12 states selected for this funding,” said DEQ Director Chris Dorrington. “This grant helps manufacturers expand their use of technology to streamline operations, reduce energy consumption, reduce costs and ultimately become more competitive in the national and global manufacturing sector.”


The overarching goal of this initiative is to provide information and assistance to small and medium-sized manufacturing firms (SMMs) who may not be aware of all the advanced technologies available to them, or who need technical guidance to select, design or implement an advanced technology project. The program will focus on “Smart Manufacturing” technologies, which are generally defined as technologies that can be integrated to communicate with one another to detect problems, improve efficiencies and performance. Examples include technologies related to automation, monitoring, sensing, modeling and artificial intelligence (AI).


The project is comprised of several components. A full-time Smart Manufacturing Expert from MMEC will provide hands-on guidance and support to manufacturing firms throughout the state. The project team will design and build a mobile Smart Manufacturing demonstration and simulation unit for on-site demonstrations of these technologies.


“The overwhelming majority of Montana manufacturers have small operations in locations that are long distances from technology vendors and technical support, so they may have dismissed technology implementations as too expensive or complex” said MMEC Director Paddy Fleming; “this is a chance to bring the technology to them, introduce them to feasible options, and support them through the entire process.”


To develop a qualified talent pool, MMEC will partner with Highlands College to develop a Smart Manufacturing Technician certificate program. The team will also create an apprenticeship and an internship program to expand skills training and career awareness related to smart technologies in the manufacturing sector.


“To sustain the use of these advanced technologies, manufacturers will need more workers with the skills and experience to program, operate, troubleshoot, and maintain them,” said Highlands College dean Karen Vandaveer. “The certificate program and other educational components will support the long-term success of this initiative as well as the Montana manufacturing sector in general. The applied technical courses specific to smart manufacturing in the areas of robotics, additive manufacturing and mechatronics will be created and delivered by blending theory with hands-on industry recognized practice.”