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America Makes Funding Remains Intact; Others’ Cut

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BRECKSVILLE, Ohio – President Barack Obama’s advanced manufacturing hubs that comprise the national Manufacturing USA network, should receive all of its federal funding in fiscal 2018, its executive director says.

“It looks very good for us,” says Rob Gorham, the newly appointed executive director of America Makes, an institute devoted to advancing public/private partnerships in research and the commercial use of additive manufacturing. “One of the best things we’ve done is really try to understand how to align ourselves with the needs of true public/private partnerships. We embrace what the private sector is doing.”

Gorham says that the eight Manufacturing USA institutes that work under the U.S. Department of Defense are to receive full funding of $115 million under the 2018 budget request the White House has sent to Congress. America Makes is funded through the U.S. Air Force. Another $15 million is allocated to the single institute the U.S. Department of Commerce oversees.

Other initiatives weren’t as lucky. President Trump’s budget request calls for the elimination of all five institutes established under the U.S. Department of Energy, Gorham says.

“The elimination of DOE institutes falls in line with the government’s new priorities in manufacturing,” Gorham told an audience of 70 June 8 at the second meeting of the Additive Manufacturing Cluster in Brecksville. The group, composed of academics, development organizations and manufacturers, listened to a series of presentations about how companies can incorporate the additive manufacturing process in their businesses.

As for America Makes, Gorham says that Defense is impressed by its ability to assemble an extensive network of partners from the public and private sectors. “DOD is very interested in leveraging the network that we’ve built,” he says. “We’re at 182 members right now, and many in the queue. We think this strong ecosystem enhances our value.”

A major objective of America Makes and its partners is to establish regional “clusters” that create synergies among research and development initiatives, suppliers and manufacturers. Northeastern Ohio, Gorham says, is among those regions identified as a prime spot to develop such a cluster for additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing.

The process involves using advanced technology to build components and complex shapes from the ground up with various materials distributed from large-scale and small-scale 3-D printers.

“America Makes is a national institute, but we feel that there’s a need for form regional clusters that work up and down the supply chain,” he says. This network engages academic institutions such as Youngstown State and Case Western Reserve universities, material providers, parts manufacturers, service providers and equipment manufacturers, he says.

Five years ago, the room where Gorham spoke would have been empty, he says, because awareness of additive manufacturing was in its infancy and only now beginning to gain traction. “What America Makes does is to bring people together, coordinate the information that’s happening across the county and the world, and catalyze high-impact projects,” he says.

To date, America Makes has awarded some $100 million to help fund 66 projects, Gorham says. “We’ll be announcing several new projects most likely in this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.”

Among these projects are partnerships with YSU, Case Western Reserve and the Youngstown Business Incubator, along with local businesses and international defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin. However, increasing the awareness of how additive manufacturing can apply to business in northeastern Ohio is a major component of America Makes’ mission.

“Just the turnout for this event shows we’re getting great response,” says Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator. “We definitely feel like we’re adding some real firepower behind this initiative.”

Businesses are exploring the use of additive manufacturing in their processes either as cost-saving measures or as ways to develop new products and enter new markets, Ewing says.

Once such company is Euclid-based Lincoln Electric, a global manufacturer of welding products founded in 1895. In 2014, the company, along with Case Western Reserve University, embarked on research funded through America Makes to develop metal-layering technology that uses a laser-assisted, wire-based additive process.

“We see additive as an extension of welding,” says Michael Kottman, materials engineer at Lincoln Electric. “We’re taking a process we’ve already developed, so this is a really big thing for us. We’re seeing a lot of coordination between the welding technology and additive.”

Metal layering – commonly known as cladding in the industry – was always a part of Lincoln Electric’s business, Kottman says. This new additive technology, however, allows Lincoln to work with alloys that contain titanium and nickel. “Most are test geometries at the moment,” he says of the research.

The growing influence of additive manufacturing is evident in larger corporations such as GE, which developed a new division devoted solely to the process. This year, GE announced plans to convert its Center for Additive Technology Advancement in Pittsburgh into a customer experience center, and has invested more than $1.5 billion into additive technology.

The additive manufacturing market in the United States has caught the eye of European companies that see this segment as having enormous potential.

AddUp Global Additive Solutions, a venture formed by French companies Fives (pronounced Feevs) and tire giant Michelin, announced last month plans to expand in North America. The company manufactures additive manufacturing equipment geared toward mass production and should open its first customer technology center early next year. The centers will showcase AddUp’s machines and the use of industrial metals in additive manufacturing.

“We’ve launched the business in the U.S., so we can take orders now,” says Matt Shockey, executive director of operations for AddUp USA. “Our first technology center will open in the United States in the first quarter of 2018, and in the beginning of 2019, we’ll be manufacturing machines in the U.S.,” he says.

AddUp plans to announce the location of the first customer technology center in the third quarter.

While many in the industry see additive manufacturing as a process best used for low-volume production, or for specialty parts and components, some of its applications could benefit just about any manufacturer.

“Additive is exceptional for tooling,” says Darrell Wallace, professor of materials engineering at YSU. “This is a competitive opportunity to integrate it into the traditional manufacturing process. You could do it at just about any manufacturer.”

For some, using 3-D printing to build tools used in the traditional manufacturing process could save companies significant sums of money and make their operations more efficient, Wallace says. “This could have an impact on all levels of production.”

Maybe so, but industry hasn’t broadly adopted this application, Wallace says. This is because many don’t understand how additive technology and tooling could fit into their business, or those who do understand additive are trending to manufacture entire parts through 3-D printing and bypass the tooling phase altogether.

To boost this awareness, YSU, the YBI, America Makes and Cleveland-based Magnet partnered to form the Advanced Tooling Acceleration Program, which targets small- and medium-sized manufacturers that lack the capital and expertise to develop advanced tooling. The idea is to work with Ohio manufacturers to educate them on how to use this technology and whether it makes sense for their business.

“It links expertise in advance-tooling applications with Ohio industry,” Wallace says. “It helps to develop examples of how this strategy can be used effectively.”

There is nonetheless a growing interest in additive manufacturing that producers across the country readily embrace, says America Makes’ Gorham.

He points to his visit to the annual Rapid + TCT Conference – a major technology and additive manufacturing expo — held in Pittsburgh in May. There attendance was 56% than in 2016.

“It’s interesting how this has transitioned from a small trade show to more than 70,000 square feet of exhibits,” Gorham says. Among the innovations that struck him was a 3-D printer produced from the company Desktop Metal, which is able to produce metallic parts from a small machine that can fit atop a desk.

“It’s branded as the world’s first office-friendly metal printer,” he says. “We can get an idea of where this industry is headed.”

Pictured: Rob Gorham, executive director of America Makes, says the additive manufacturing institute will see no funding cut this year.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.