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Indian American to guide US manufacturing policy

Last updated on: February 25, 2011 16:19 IST

Indian American to guide US manufacturing policy

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC


Secunderabad-born and raised Dr Sridhar Kota, 52, professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, has become American President Barack Obama's point man for developing policy on manufacturing in the White House.

Kota, currently on leave from the University of Michigan, is serving as the assistant director for advanced manufacturing at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

OSTP advises the President and others within the executive office on science and technology policies and their effects on domestic and international affairs. The OSTP also leads interagency efforts to develop and implement science and technology policies and budgets.

In his role at OSTP, Kota coordinates federal advanced manufacturing R&D and addresses issues related to innovation, manufacturing competitiveness and technology commercialisation.

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Image: (Inset) Dr Sridhar Kota.
Photographs: Reuters
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He identifies gaps in current US federal R&D in advanced manufacturing, develops policy recommendations and implementation strategies to enhance US manufacturing competitiveness, foster commercialization and US-based manufacturing of emerging technologies.

In an interview with rediff.com, Kota said, "It's a tremendous honour and privilege to be part of the Obama administration. And being in manufacturing is something I deeply care about, particularly over the eroding manufacturing base in this country. So, it's been really my passion. So, I am extremely fortunate to get this opportunity in the administration to work on something that is my passion."

"As you know, the President has been very keen on manufacturing from day one, and they actually created this position of assistant director for advanced manufacturing and there's no director for this office so for all intents and purposes, I am the one who develops the policy for advanced manufacturing," he said.

Kota said his office "is the one which sets the administration's priorities and conveys those priorities to various agencies and also works with the Office of Management and Budget."

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Image: US President Barack Obama.
Photographs: Reuters
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He explained, "My role incorporates three categories. One is, how do we strengthen our existing industry and hasten the competitiveness of existing industry. The other one is how do we create new industry."

Kota said, "We are very good at coming up with ideas in this idea-discovery phase, we are still the best in the world, but then we need to be able to convert those ideas to products that are manufactured here."

"So, there is a gap in terms of how do we bridge that gap between research and manufacturing to promote manufacturing here and creating new industries," he added.

Kota said, "The third category is how do we coordinate across various federal agencies in manufacturing. So, they are loosely scattered among various agencies and then providing some coordination function and also some strategic plan of what kinds of things we should be focusing on."

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Photographs: Reuters
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An alumnus of Osmania University where he received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, Kota came to the US in 1980 to do graduate work at the University of Mississippi from where he received his master's degree in materials engineering.

He then worked for two years in the private sector as a design engineer and then went back to college -- the University of Minnesota to get himself another master's degree and also a PhD in mechanical engineering, after which he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan where he's taught for 23 years and also done research in design and manufacturing.

His teaching and research interests include synthesis of bio-inspired engineering systems, shape-adaptive compliant structures, and electromechanical systems design with applications to manufacturing, automotive, aerospace and MEMS.

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Photographs: Reuters
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He has authored over 200 technical papers including several Best Paper awards, holds over 25 patents and served as an engineering consultant to numerous organisations.

He is the recipient of the ASME Machine Design Award, ASME Leonardo da Vinci Award and ASME Ruth and Joel Spira Outstanding Educator Award.

Kota is also the founding President and CEO of FlexSys Inc. -- a small business engaged in bio-inspired design of aircraft wings, wind turbine blades and automotive systems and his research has been featured in New York Times, Discovery Channel, Science News, Aviation Week, Popular Science, and other popular mainstream and specialised publications.


Photographs: Reuters
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