State of the Union: Printing the Future with Science and Innovation

You may have heard President Obama mention something called additive manufacturing in last night’s State of the Union address. He described it as a way to bring manufacturing jobs back home from overseas and still remain globally competitive. Nowhere is this more important than in the industrial region affectionately known as the Rust Belt.

Bust of Maker-in-Chief President Obama Created on a 3-D Printer

Bust of Maker-in-Chief President Obama Created on a 3-D Printer

Perhaps that is why the President highlighted a public-private partnership technology incubator in Youngstown, Ohio. The region, which includes northeast Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania was hit hard when car manufacturing and other heavy equipment building began to be done outside of the U.S. Now with a surge of federal funding and the cooperation of the business community, Youngstown is trying to become the capital of the re-evnisioned Tech Belt.

And it’s going to be the center of a manufacturing revolution as it helps the U.S. print the future.

Okay, back to additive manufacturing. In hackerspaces and maker faires additive manufacturing is simply known as 3-D printing. 3D printing is manufacturing for the digital age. First, a model of an object is designed on a computer. Just like the all-familiar computer printer, a 3-D printer uses inks. But instead of a typical home printer which only prints an image on a flat surface (piece of paper) and uses toner cartridges these 3-D printers layer plastic, metal or resin to construct actual objects. The printer head moves left and right, up and down to build layer by layer. The product hardens as the plastic dries.

The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute acting director Ralph Resnick says, “Unlike traditional manufacturing methods that subtract material to make parts, additive manufacturing essentially grows parts. We are on the cusp growing the U.S. manufacturing industry into a dominant economic force and it started right here in Youngstown.”

Plastic Animals Still a Favorite among 3-D Print Fans

Plastic Animals Still a Favorite among 3-D Print Fans

Plastic ducks and personalized action figures are among the most popular 3-D-printed items. Tinkerers have taken the rapid advances in computer aided design (CAD) and integrated it with clunky 3-D printers which previously were used to make small-scale prototypes of airplanes (for companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin) or ceramic bones (used in medical procedures). Together almost anything that can be drawn can now be printed in three dimensions.

And while homemade 3-D printing projects at sites like Thingaverse or Shapeways has dominated the manufacturing-for-the-backyard-enthusiast and do-it-yourselfer market big companies and government contractors think they can bring jobs home from overseas by training a new high-tech manufacturing generation to build things using 3-D printers.

In the last year a few low-ish cost 3D printers went on the market, bringing micro-manufacturing to the home for the first time with desktop 3-D printers. MakerBot quickly captured the market and continues to lead the 3-D printing craze, helping frustrated dads print baby spoons or one-of-a-kind plastic toys for their kids.

MakerBot Desktop 3-D Printer Brings Manufacturing to the Home

MakerBot Desktop 3-D Printer Brings Manufacturing to the Home

Even Staples office supply stores will soon offer 3-D printing services.

But now 3-D printing is scaling up and going prime time. With a $30 million investment from the Departments of Defense, Energy and Commerce (including NASA, National Science Foundation and National Institute of Standards and Technology) the first additive manufacturing innovation center opened in Youngstown last fall. In a public-private partnership government agencies are teaming up with community organizations like the Youngstown Business Incubator, the Youngstown Foundation and Youngstown City Council. A $40 million match from private companies like The ExOne Company, GE Global Research, Lockheed Martin Aeronautics and Northrop Grumman round out the partnership with member organizations from industry, academia and government.

Upon opening its doors NAMII acting director Resnick said, “It is a game changer. With NAMII leading and fostering an unprecedented level of industry collaboration, the additive manufacturing sector is poised to revolutionize the U.S. manufacturing industry.”

Back in August President Obama said, “This institute will help make sure that the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow take root not in places like China or India, but right here in the United States of America.”

Last night he repeated that call by saying,

Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.

After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America.

If we want to make the best products, we also have to invest in the best ideas. Every dollar we invested to map the human genome returned $140 to our economy. Today, our scientists are mapping the human brain to unlock the answers to Alzheimer’s; developing drugs to regenerate damaged organs; devising new material to make batteries ten times more powerful. Now is not the time to gut these job-creating investments in science and innovation. Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race.

Manufacturing accounts for about 12 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product but it is responsible for 70 percent of domestic innovation industry research and development and employs 60 percent of industry’s scientists and engineers. Last year President Obama recognized the importance of domestic manufacturing. He says it is to critical to innovation, jobs, the economy, exports and even national security.

In his State of the Union address last year he laid out his blueprint for an economy that is built to last. Then he said, “This blueprint begins with American manufacturing.”

Last March the President asked for a one-time, $1 billion investment in the 2013 budget to form 15 regional institutes for manufacturing innovation. The Youngstown National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute is the first and pilot in what could become a National Network of Manufacturing Innovation. In the State of the Union on February 12 he announced the formation of three additional innovation-driven manufacturing hubs and encouraged Congress to fund those 15 innovation institutes to create a national network for manufacturing innovation.

President Obama says he’s planned the “launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.”

The NAMII doors opened last summer and the first deadline for project proposals that the institute will pursue with partner organizations closed at the end of January. It expects to announce its first round of projects in March.

A Chicago company named Sciaky showcased its technology at the Pennsylvania State University Technology Showcase on Additive Manufacturing. The company that builds large titanium parts for use in jet fighters partnered with Lockheed Martin last year. Companies like this will bring pre-competitive ideas to the innovation institute to work on in collaboration. And all members agree to publish their work in journals, showcase projects at conferences or make it accessible to the public.

Watch the video to see how Sciaky makes plane parts.

The Youngstown innovation institute is run by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, a separate non-profit organization that streamlines existing and in-development defense systems.

Besides large-scale 3-D printing operations that manufacture parts for heavy equipment, planes and other machinery, clever entrepreneurs may be able to print a future for themselves as well.

Dylan Watkins Demonstrates how his 3-D-Printed Teabag Buddies Work

Dylan Watkins Demonstrates how his 3-D-Printed Teabag Buddies Work

Dylan Watkins owns a food truck in Southern California. The burger slinger was casting about for a new business idea when he landed on Teabag Buddies. These small figurines that perch on the edge of your mug to hold your teabag are just the type of thing 3-D printers were built to make. And rather than spending a lot of money for a mold and then cheap overseas manufacturing of his design, he just printed up his own set of buddies at the local creative space called Build Shop in Los Angeles.

Watkins says, “You can make a unique design, print out a couple dozen on one sheet, and have it ready in one hour.” And each figurine costs about $12 to produce.

Computing and future studies professor Christopher Barnatt sees 3-D printing now where personal computers were in the early 1980s. The Nottingham University business school prof says, “There is going to be a lot of hand-holding before people get used to this technology.”

And that’s precisely why President Obama and national manufacturing organizations are teaming up. They want to retrain assembly line workers whose jobs became automated or went overseas. They want a new generation of technically capable and technologically adept workers to push innovation forward. And they want us all to start printing our own futures.

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