Navajo Technical University | Arizona State University

Indigenous Innovation Network


NSF Engines Development Award #2302926

Advancing Distributed Manufacturing Innovations in Tribal Communities (IIN-ADMIT)

This Regional Innovation Engines Development Award is focused on addressing a key void in technology-based economic development: a failure to involve tribal communities in technology transfer and advanced manufacturing.  Our pilot program develops distributed micro-factories and technology centers in the Navajo Nation, which will enable these remote rural tribal communities to participate in emerging supply chain operations in the space industry, which is growing the Southwest. These micro-manufacturing technologies will be implemented in a manner consistent with tribal community values. Our region is the Navajo Nation, which includes the states of New Mexico and Arizona. The PIs from Navajo Technical University (NTU) and Arizona State University (ASU) will work collaboratively to develop a plan for an operational ecosystem. NTU has strong technical and training capabilities complemented by ASU’s technical, economic development, and technology transfer strengths. The project will establish a network of micro-factories to benefit from space technology supply chain opportunities and provide a roadmap for Tribal adoption of digital infrastructure and digital manufacturing technologies that generate revenue and create jobs. The project will increase community awareness of employment and entrepreneurial opportunities. Working with newly elected Navajo Nation leadership, the project takes a comprehensive approach by leveraging Tribal, higher education and industry resources to create a sustainable manufacturing ecosystem that furthers Tribal economic prosperity goals. The newly elected President of the Navajo Nation has stated that one of his key goals is to create at least 10,000 high-paying jobs for tribal members.

NTU’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing will be the hub of a network of advanced manufacturing sites. The ASU School of Manufacturing Systems and Networks will equip INN sites with state-of-the-art technology. The Global Center for Technology Transfer at ASU will establish legal, entrepreneurial, and managerial frameworks that will facilitate translational research between ASU and NTU, as well as the contracting process with prospective industry partners. Building on NTU’s capabilities and the Navajo Nation’s workforce development potential, we address the needs and constraints of all participating in the IIN ecosystem while remaining consistent with Tribal cultural values and priorities. This effort will develop industry and investor connections, help fostering of an entrepreneurial mindset among tribal members, and facilitate the development of entrepreneurial support mechanisms that attract additional private investment needed to build out the IIN manufacturing network. Through this Development Award, the project team will establish a roadmap within which space industry supply chain opportunities, production facility requirements, workforce technical skill needs, and overall management and coordination mechanisms are identified in preparation for Innovation Engine implementation.