Taking 3D printing from prototyping to manufacturing


On Presidential orders, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute was created to accelerate the implementation of additive manufacturing. But how will NAMII directly benefit you?

By Leslie Langnau, Managing Editor

For the past 20+ years, individual developers of additive manufacturing technology (often also known as 3D printing) have gone it alone when it came to research and development. Each company, some of whom are no longer around, improved its technology slowly but surely.

Recently, sectors of the U.S. government have taken notice of additive manufacturing, many taking on the view that this technology will revive our economy and reignite our manufacturing. These sectors have decided that this technology is important enough and critical enough to create a public-private partnership—known as NAMII—with industry and academia to accelerate its growth and development.

It’s nice to see that economists, pundits, politicians, and others now understand the importance of a strong manufacturing base to a country’s economy, especially after they have actively encouraged U.S. companies to ship their manufacturing overseas for the last 30 years.

NAMII, or the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, has a big job ahead of it. If you’ve read the media over the past year, NAMII is supposed to be largely responsible for “bringing manufacturing back to the U.S.” Well, manufacturing never completely left the U.S.; it just has a smaller footprint at the moment.

If NAMII reaches its goal, soon engineers will see additive manufacturing systems in most manufacturing facilities, giving you an additional tool to use to build your designs.

If NAMII reaches its goal, soon engineers will see additive manufacturing systems in most manufacturing facilities, giving you an additional tool to use to build your designs.

Additive manufacturing (AM) will not replace traditional manufacturing.Instead, it will become another tool in the manufacturing toolbox (along with CNC machining and injection molding). But, additive technology still has a long road of development ahead, especially as it relates to use in manufacturing. Specifically, standards are needed. Tests on materials and technology must assure manufacturing executives that this technology is reliable and that products built with it meet quality expectations. Repeatedly. A materials database is paramount. Increasing the build time of nearly all of the AM processes is desired. And so on.

Part of NAMII’s charge is to herd the resources to achieve these goals. In the language of NAMII, one of the goals is to “move this technology to higher manufacturing readiness levels (MROs), from a low level of 2 or 3, where it is now, to a level of 7 or 8,” said a spokesman for NAMII.

The core of NAMII

One year ago, NAMII was created by Presidential edict as a proof-of-concept model for future National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) centers. An inter-agency advisory council of technical experts from the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of Energy (DOE), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) determined the pilot institute’s focus to be additive manufacturing.

During NAMII’s initial press conference, people received an opportunity to explore the latest 3D printing/additive manufacturing equipment up close.

During NAMII’s initial press conference, people received an opportunity to explore the latest 3D printing/additive manufacturing equipment up close.

The National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) administers it, using NCDMM staff and procedures and capabilities. The U.S. Government has a multi-agency Technical Advisory Board in place within NAMII, led by the Cooperative Agreement (CA) Technical Program Manager to advise on technical direction. Additionally, NAMII also has an Executive Committee and Governance Board composed of Full and Lead NAMII members.

If this experiment succeeds, there could be 16 additional manufacturing hubs that bring industry, academia, and government together to help advance emerging manufacturing technologies. For now, NAMII is focused on turning the industry known as 3D printing into usable manufacturing capability.

A number of leading companies have given equipment to NAMII. Included among the machines are Stratasys FDM rapid prototyping units, ExOne metal-based additive manufacturing machines, Renishaw and 3D Systems Z-Corp printers and an sPro selective laser sintering system.

How NAMII will work

NAMII’s technical vision is to competitively seek projects that fill gaps and needs within an assessment methodology it is developing, known as the National Additive Roadmap. This methodology will be instrumental in identifying areas for growth throughout industry sectors and refining the project areas to be selected.

Engineers and other innovators will propose projects to the institute, for example, seeking a better way to make a part out of titanium, or determining a way to qualify 3-D printed parts for aerospace, medical and other highly regulated fields.

The educational component of NAMII will then reach out to professors and students from various member educational institutions to research the project. A metals expert connected to the institute, for example, may be brought in to provide expertise. Noted David Burns, president and COO of ExOne, his company is committed to contributing machine capacity/machine time to work on various research projects, putting ExOne in a role in NAMII as a “backbone” company that can provide a true additive manufacturing process when it’s called for.

Once prototypes have been developed, they will move on to another entity within the institute for testing and certification. Eventually, the research will be published.

Projects undertaken will be based on their applied research, high sustainability, digital data (modeling, simulation, and data-driven), and viability of educational outreach and workforce training.

Current projects

In March, NAMII announced the recipients of its first round of funding—$4.5 million for seven teams of universities and manufacturers that will work hand-in-hand to develop new tools, new uses, and new understanding of additive manufacturing processes. NCDMM and NAMII have selected seven projects that best integrate with four key development areas: technology development, technology transition, advanced manufacturing enterprise, and education/workforce outreach.

Subject to the finalization of all contractual details and requirements, the approved NAMII projects are as follows:

“Maturation of Fused Depositing Modeling (FDM) Component Manufacturing” – Rapid Prototype + Manufacturing LLC (RP+M)

Led by small business part producer, RP+M, in partnership with equipment manufacturers and large industry system integrators and the University of Dayton Research Institute, this project should deliver a deeper understanding of the properties and opportunities of the high-temperature polymer, ULTEM™ 9085. Some of the key expected outcomes from this project include a design guide; critical materials and processing data; and machine, material, part and process certification.

“Qualification of Additive Manufacturing Processes and Procedures for Repurposing and Rejuvenation of Tooling” – Case Western Reserve University

Led by Case Western Reserve University, in partnership with several additive manufacturers, die casters, computer modelers, and the North American Die Casting Association, this project will develop, evaluate, and qualify methods for repairing and repurposing tools and dies. The goal is to save energy and costs through repair and repurposing tools and dies, and reducing lead-time by extending tool life through use of the additive manufacturing techniques developed by this team.

“Sparse-Build Rapid Tooling by Fused Depositing Modeling (FDM) for Composite Manufacturing and Hydroforming” – Missouri University of Science and Technology

“Fused Depositing Modeling (FDM) for Complex Composites Tooling” – Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems

Composites are high-strength materials used in a range of industries, and can be used for “lightweighting,” a strategy for reducing energy consumption. These two projects will focus on fused depositing modeling (FDM) and are to be co-developed in close collaboration by Missouri University of Science and Technology and Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, in partnership with other small and large companies and the Robert C. Byrd Institute’s Composite Center of Excellence. These projects address a key near-term opportunity: the ability to rapidly and cost-effectively produce tooling for composite manufacturing.

“Maturation of High-Temperature Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) Technologies and Infrastructure” – Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems

Led by Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, in partnership with several industry team members, this project will develop a selective laser sintering (SLS) process for a lower-cost, high-temperature thermoplastic for making air and space vehicle components and other commercial applications. In addition, recyclability and reuse of materials will also be explored to maximize cost savings and promote sustainability.

“Thermal Imaging for Process Monitoring and Control of Additive Manufacturing” – Penn State University Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP 3D)

Led by Penn State University, in partnership with several industry and university team members, this project will expand the use of thermal imaging for process monitoring and control of electron beam direct manufacturing (EBDM) and laser engineered net shaping (LENS) additive manufacturing processes. Improvements to the EBDM and LENS systems will enable 3D visualization of the measured global temperature field and real-time control of electron beam or laser power levels based on thermal image characteristics. These outcomes will enable the community to have greater confidence on part properties and quality using these technologies.

“Rapid Qualification Methods for Powder Bed Direct Metal Additive Manufacturing Processes” – Case Western Reserve University

Led by Case Western Reserve University, in partnership with leading aerospace industry companies and other industry and university team members, this project will improve the industry’s ability to understand and control microstructure and mechanical properties across EOS Laser Sintering and Arcam Electron Beam Melting (EBM®) powder bed processes. Process-based cost modeling with variable production volumes will also be delivered.


NAMII has developed a dues-paying membership program that allows any U.S. industrial organization, academic institution, non-profit agency, federally funded research and development center, and government agency to participate. The membership is in three-year terms. (Individual memberships are under consideration and may be announced at a later date.) Member companies will benefit by sending their engineers to technical conferences, workshops, and workforce training courses that NAMII will offer. It will also sponsor a graduate intern. A lab will be available for members and non-members.

Three membership tiers are available, each with different investments and benefits: the Supporting Membership, the mid-tier Full Membership, and the top Lead Membership. Membership benefits increase with each tier. All membership levels include complimentary access to all NAMII-managed technical conferences and workshops; fee discounts for workforce training courses; annual sponsorship of a graduate intern; and participation in all NAMII poster sessions.

While non-members may also use NAMII labs on a fee-for-service basis after being certified on the equipment, NAMII members receive priority scheduling for lab time and resources allocation.

Rights for the research developed intellectual property vary with funding sources and membership levels. Projects using NAMII federal or membership funds will provide safe harbor for collaboration on research and royalty free non-exclusive rights for commercial development for all NAMII IP. Self-funded applied research projects may retain exclusive rights for IP developed from the project.

NAMII members agree and expect that results of these projects shall be published or otherwise made publicly available, including at symposia and national or regional professional meetings, published in journals, theses or dissertations. More information about the publication of research results is detailed in the NAMII Membership Agreement.

So how will NAMII directly benefit you? If NAMII succeeds, you will see greater access to additive manufacturing machines in a manufacturing capacity, helping you develop your designs more easily. At some point, noted a spokesman for NAMII, you will see a network of additive machines around the world to use to make your designs. MPF


One Comment on “Taking 3D printing from prototyping to manufacturing

  1. The future is bright, and getting brighter for Additive Manufacturing. The field of additive manufacturing has exploded. Additive manufacturing technologies will create a world of possibilities.

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