Nestled between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, in the very heart of the rustbelt, Youngstown, Ohio, has been waiting for good news for quite some time. Last month, president Obama finally delivered that news in the form of a $30 million grant that promises to transform the region into the new center of the U.S. high tech manufacturing renaissance.
The grant will establish the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), centered in Youngstown and composed of a consortium of businesses, universities and nonprofit organizations stretched throughout the region.
The NAMII is part of the president’s National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) plan, announced in March, which would fund up to 15 of these institutions around the country if Congress appropriates the money.
The fact that these funds haven’t yet been approved makes the NAMII all the more interesting.
"What everybody needs to keep in mind is that this first particular center was put in place without any congressional approval," notes Douglas Woods, president of the Association of Manufacturing Technology, a key member of the consortium.
"The administration decided they couldn’t wait for Congress, so they took action. They pulled money out of a bunch of different budgets so they could pull off this first center with the concept that once the government sees how well this initiative works, they will put in money through legislation so they can put the other centers in place," he explains.
This places additive manufacturing in a prominent role defining the future of advanced manufacturing for the country.
"Even though it has been around for 20 to 30 years, really from the standpoint of rapid growth and assimilation into the fabric of advanced manufacturing, additive manufacturing is really in its infancy," Woods argues. "With this center, it is going to have to grow up fast."
In order for NAMII to work as a proof-of-concept pilot institute for the NNMI, it will have to produce results and produce them quickly, he says.
This means two things. First, it means fulfilling the initiative's goal of connecting research and commercialization by getting more businesses to develop both the technology and the application of it while breaking down some of the IP barriers that often interfere.
Secondly, he says, additive manufacturing is going to have to start showing some real results.
"People aren't talking about 3-D printing in terms of what they do relative to prototyping," he suggests. "The reason why the Department of Defense is there, the reason Congress is there, the reason why these companies are getting involved is they want real manufacturing applications.They don't want prototype production, they want final parts."
Led by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) and composed of research universities such as Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve University and leading manufacturing companies like Honeywell (IW 500/37), Boeing (IW 500/16) and IBM (IW 500/10), the NAMII is up for this challenge, Woods asserts.
"Even though this institution was funded differently than others, the group at NCDMM will be successful and this one will succeed," he says. "It will be a model for others to follow."