Uncle Sam chooses 3D printing to boost manufacturing in the United States
Uncle Sam is tired of sending American innovation overseas and is erecting a blockade of 3D printers.
With his recently introduced Additive Manufacturing Forward program, President Joe Biden wants to enable more small and medium-sized businesses, otherwise known as machine shops, to adopt the high-tech AM method. Some of the nation’s largest OEMs have signed on to the plan, which also leverages existing federal programs.
The initiative comes as the country is in the midst of a manufacturing boom with more than $200 billion in investment in new manufacturing facilities and the creation of 473,000 new jobs in the sector since Biden took office, according to a report. White House fact sheet on AM Forward.
“Businesses are investing in America again, bringing home high-paying manufacturing jobs,” according to the fact sheet. “This is just the beginning of a broad revival of American industrial might.”
AM can be a major contributor to this “broad revival”, if forecasts by consultancy AT Kearney come true. In 2017, the company reported that 3D printing could create 3-5 million new skilled jobs and represent at least $600 billion in total economic value.
Revival or not, AM Forward is designed to help participants improve their capabilities and improve the skills of their workforce, while providing OEMs with the vendors they need.
The first OEM participants are GE Additive, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Siemens Energy. These companies have made commitments regarding purchasing, technical assistance, training of their suppliers’ workers and commitment to the development of common standards and certification/qualification of suppliers.
“It’s not enough to develop the manufacturing process,” said President Neal Orringer of the Applied Science and Technology Research Organization of America (ASTROA), a think tank and research organization in Bethesda, Maryland. who runs the program. “It is also extremely important that we help qualify and accelerate the process by which suppliers can qualify a manufacturing production process.”
Attendees will focus on producing low-volume, high-diversity 3D printed parts that would otherwise face bottlenecks due to the long lead times required for the molds needed to manufacture them. Most promises in OEM public engagement letters are vague, with commitments to “work with” others, “if possible.” Siemens Energy listed the most concrete goals, including engaging 10-20 US suppliers and partners in research; train them in inspection and post-processing best practices; and providing a training and education portfolio to 100 supplier and partner representatives through its existing network of innovation centers.
AM Forward leverages existing federal programs for small and medium businesses to provide access to capital through loans; providing technical assistance through the Oak Ridge National Laboratory Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, the Department of Defense’s Protégé Mentor Program, and the National Institute of Standards and technology ; supporting workforce development through curriculum development and learning; and fostering the development of standards, especially for metal 3D printing.
“What’s really exciting about this, in my opinion, is really a commitment from these large companies to invest in their suppliers to ensure supply chain resilience,” Orringer said.
AM Forward shouldn’t be limited to the top five OEMs, their current suppliers or even the aerospace and defense industry, where most early entrants come from, he said.
AM Forward also plays a role for America Makes, the American AM-focused manufacturing institute, to help develop standards and a workforce training and development program for 3D printing. Coincidentally, when Orringer was director of manufacturing at the Department of Defense, he helped start Manufacturing USA – and America Makes was the first institute.
“I think it’s a natural fit for America Makes,” said Andy Resnick, director of communications and public affairs for the institute. “We already do a lot of that. We have an incredible catalog of assets at our disposal, particularly on education and workforce development which we are eager to deploy and believe we can deploy in this context so as not to recreate the wheel. And standardization is something we are already very active in.