NASA, FDA, NIH and the Departments of Energy and Defense: These are just a few of the government actors in the increasingly growing space of additive manufacturing (AM) and 3D printing. For more than 30 years, both private industry and the federal government have invested hundreds of millions of dollars into 3D printing, with industrial 3D printing an increasing portion of the manufacturing sector.
Since many of the patents filed in the 1980s began expiring in the 2000s, we have seen a rapid expansion of AM. The number of 3D-printing-related patents more than doubled between 2010 and 2015 to 545, and 19,285 industrial 3D printers were sold in 2018. The role of the federal government in developing AM is not insignificant, with the National Science Foundation alone investing over $200 million in the past three decades through more than 600 grants.
I remember a pivotal moment here in Washington, D.C lobbying on the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act (RAMI) starting in 2013. Few bills have impacted the manufacturing sector more than RAMI in my 25 years working in the nation’s capital. The law gave Congressional authorization to the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office and authorized the federal government to establish a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), which is today known as Manufacturing USA.
It has grown into a network of 16 manufacturing innovation institutes structured as public-private partnerships that each have its own focus area of technology. The institutes range from the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing in Pittsburgh, Pa., to The Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation in Knoxville, Tenn., and LIFT in Detroit working to develop and deploy advanced lightweight materials manufacturing technology.
One of these innovation institutes is America Makes in Youngstown, Ohio, a national accelerator that brings together partners in industry, government and academia to explore solutions to challenges achieved through AM and 3D printing. The institute has several initiatives, including an online platform for accessing information, data and intellectual capital needs; developing technology roadmaps defining industry needs; public-private partnership projects focusing on design, process, material, value chain and an AM genome examining material property; and workforce training through education in 3D-printing materials and products.
This now decade-old initiative works because it is industry-driven using government resources and academic research. An example of innovation developed at America Makes includes Multi3D, a five-axis motion platform for additive and subtractive manufacturing of multifunctional components within a single enclosed unit. A current project involves a $3 million grant from the U.S. Commerce Department in March 2022 to America Makes to develop an AM prototype of N95-level facemasks.
Within the federal government, the Department of Energy is among the leaders in 3D printing. The Department’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO), in partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), has printed everything from houses and sports cars to functional nozzles and heat exchangers for public-private partnerships. The AMO supports R&D projects, consortia and early-stage technical partnerships with national laboratories, companies, non-profits, state and local governments, and universities to investigate new manufacturing technologies.
AMO has several funding opportunities available with application deadlines between September and December 2022, including for energy-efficiency industrial validation, high-performance computing for manufacturing, and conductivity-enhanced materials for both electrical and thermal energy applications.
More of interest, the AMO announced funding of up to $70 million “to develop and fund a new institute that will conduct research, development and demonstration (RD&D) focused on developing and scaling electrified processes that reduce emissions, improve flexibility and enhance energy efficiency of industrial process heating.” The goal over five years of funding is to focus on low-carbon process-heating technologies and create a 17th national Manufacturing USA institute by establishing the seventh Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
Several months ago, President Biden announced the launch of Additive Manufacturing Forward (AM Forward), a voluntary compact between large original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and their smaller U.S.-based suppliers with the goal of supporting downstream suppliers’ adoption of new additive capabilities and increasing their purchases of additively produced parts from those U.S.-based suppliers.
The focus on AM and 3D printing does not stop with the federal agencies. Congress is working on legislation to make significant additional investments in U.S. supply chains and innovation. Legislation passed in the Senate funds a program to reduce the cost of scaling up AM, and the House-passed version of the same bill specifically speaks to rapid printing techniques, new materials designs and real-time process controls.
It is not often that politicians delve into the details of AM, but policymakers across the political spectrum recognize the importance of 3D printing to America’s national and economic security. Additive manufacturing has moved from a concept to commercial development in a relatively short period of time, and both regulators and lawmakers in Washington have taken notice of the opportunities ahead.
Manufacturers should expect an increased focus from the federal government on 3D printing, with significant investment across the departments and agencies. That means now is the time for your business to increase its use of AM and explore how it can work in your facility.