President Biden announced an initiative, AM Forward, to strengthen the country’s use of additive manufacturing. The initiative could “help lower costs for American families by improving the competitiveness of America’s small-and-medium-sized manufacturers, creating and sustaining high-paying manufacturing jobs, and improving supply chain resilience through adoption of additive manufacturing.”
At one time in the U.S., the manufacturing industry was a strategic powerhouse in helping to win WWII and then going on to help rebuild the countries devasted by the war. But something happened during the late 1970s and 1980s. The manufacturing industry was no longer held in high esteem, instead viewed as a dirty, grimy job. Eventually, young people thought so poorly of manufacturing, that it became the last place they wanted to work.
Other factors played a role in the demise of manufacturing as well, one of them being executives seeking to expand markets into other countries and finding ways to reduce costs, especially labor. Thus, much of U.S. manufacturing was sent overseas to the East. Here in the U.S., the hot companies to work for were found on Wall Street.
Hindsight always shows why a choice might not have been the best. A pandemic seems to help too. Placing nearly all manufacturing in the hands of a foreign country and relying on a supply chain to always deliver the goods has proven to be a bit of a flawed strategy.
Fortunately, the U.S. tends to be inventive and come up with new solutions to problems. Additive manufacturing is one of those solutions. We have not even begun to tap additive manufacturing’s potential.
So, this initiative could be useful to helping the U.S. regain some of its lost status and place in the global market; assuming the politicians understand both the technology and its potential.
Some companies do seem to be investing in the U.S. again, bringing good-paying manufacturing jobs back home. Many realize the need to put manufacturing facilities in places less susceptible to supply chain interruptions, such as semiconductors.
The AM Forward initiative is part of the Bipartisan Innovation Act (BIA). Of course, congress must pass this act first before we will see the fruits of engaging more with additive manufacturing.
But assuming this act makes its way through Congress, AM Forward builds on key Administration goals:
–More resilient and innovative supply chains, by investing in small and medium sized companies;
–Growing future industries and overcoming coordination challenges that limit adoption of new technologies like additive manufacturing;
–Both inventing and making more in America, through investments in regional manufacturing ecosystems.
The BIA will establish a Supply Chain Office at the Department of Commerce. This office will support foundational technologies such as additive manufacturing, and invest in regional tech hubs as well as increase funding for Manufacturing USA Institutes and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
While the additive industry is growing, it is still a roughly $10 billion industry, it is small compared to other manufacturing processes. It is laudable that the government recognizes the role AM can play in the U.S. economy. And any support will be appreciated. Hopefully, that support will help this industry advance the training and knowledge, along with greater automation of the entire additive manufacturing process, to move this technology closer to its potential.
Several leading American companies plan to be part of AM Forward, volunteering to help small and mid-sized enterprises (SME) advance. These companies are GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Siemens Energy.
Through AM Forward, these companies will make clear, public commitments to purchase additively produced parts from smaller U.S.-based suppliers; train the workers of their suppliers on new additive technologies; provide detailed technical assistance to support their suppliers’ adoption of new capabilities; and engage in common standards development and certification for additive products.
GE Aviation says it will target small/medium sized suppliers to compete on 50% of the requests for quotes that are sent out on products made using additive or related technologies; and will target 30% of its total external sourcing of additively manufactured parts from U.S.-based SME suppliers.
Raytheon will seek SME manufacturers involvement in more than 50% of its requests for quotes on products manufactured using additive technologies; the company will also seek to simplify and accelerate the procurement process of AM parts.
Siemens Energy will target to purchase 20-40% of total externally sourced AM parts and services from U.S.-based suppliers and partners. It will engage 10-20 U.S. SME suppliers to help improve their AM capability. And, it will also train 10-20 SME suppliers on inspection and post-processing best practices.
Lockheed Martin will work with its SME suppliers to conduct research to improve the performance of additive manufacturing AM techniques specifically focused on the use of 3D printing as an alternative to castings and forgings; and it will further participate in university and technical college programs for additive workforce development, including coursework and apprenticeship.
Honeywell will target U.S.-based SME suppliers to compete on request for quote packages sent out for products, machinery, manufacturing tooling, and/or manufacturing process development utilizing additive or related technologies. It will also offer technical assistance in part design, data generation, machine operation, post-processing, part inspection / quality management to its SME suppliers.
AM Forward is a completely voluntary compact open to any OEM to participate, provided they are willing to make public commitments to support their suppliers’ adoption of additive capabilities. It will be supported by Applied Science & Technology Research Organization (ASTRO), a non-profit organization.
To support AM Forward, the Biden Administration has identified a range of federal programs that U.S. SME manufacturers can use to support their adoption of additive capabilities and increase their competitiveness. They include:
–Providing access to capital to SME manufacturers: Providing affordable financing to small manufacturers will support the installation of additive equipment by reducing its cost. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will make its Business and Industry program available to rural manufacturers to support the purchase of new additive machines, and the training necessary to upskill their workforce. The Export-Import Bank will highlight its new domestic lending program that can help SME manufacturers upgrade their existing production equipment. And the Small Business Administration will work with the participants of AM Forward on how its 504 Loan Program and Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program can support the widespread deployment of new additive capabilities across U.S. industry.
–Delivering technical assistance from the federal government and OEMs to SME manufacturers. The Department of Energy will make its Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory available to SME manufacturers to test new additive techniques. The Manufacturing Extension Partnership will provide enhanced technical assistance; and the Department of Defense (DOD) will use its Mentor Protégé Program to reimburse the cost to the large OEM participants in AM Forward for providing technical assistance to their smaller U.S.-based suppliers owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals. DOD’s Manufacturing Technology Program Office will work with America Makes and AM Forward members on a pilot standardization project.
–Investing in the additive manufacturing workforce: To fully benefit from the use of additive capabilities, SME manufacturers must train their workforce differently to successfully deploy additive capabilities, including upskilling workers. America Makes will thus develop curriculum for workforce training with AM Forward participants; and, along with the U.S. Department of Labor, will assist manufacturers in launching apprenticeship programs in additive manufacturing.
–Setting industry standards: Finally, since 3D printing requires different standards and process certifications, the U.S. Department of Commerce – through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – will conduct measurement science research to overcome key barriers to widespread use of metals-based additive manufacturing, develop the technical basis for new high-priority standards, and disseminate these results to AM Forward participants through leadership of standards development within ASTM International, International Organization for Standardization (ISO), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and other standards bodies.
This initiative could help bring additive fully into the manufacturing realm. While additive is useful in other industries and arenas, taking its place as a key tool in manufacturing will reward everyone.