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America Makes to Mark 5 Years Tomorrow

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Despite early misperceptions about what a federal manufacturing hub would mean for the Mahoning Valley, the actual impact of America Makes has exceeded expectations, the CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator said.

America Makes will mark its fifth birthday with an event at 2 p.m. tomorrow at its Innovation Factory here.

Originally known as the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, America Makes was established by the Obama administration in 2012 as the pilot program for a series of manufacturing hubs, which today number 14. Rebranding as America Makes in 2013, the institute focuses on the development of additive manufacturing technology or 3-D printing.

Announced at a news conference Aug. 16, 2012, the institute opened in its West Boardman Street location, part of the Youngstown Business Incubator campus, Sept. 27 that year. The consortium of public and private partners received an initial $30 million in federal funds to match the $40 million raised by its members, which included manufacturing firms, universities, technical colleges and non-profit organizations in the Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia Tech Belt.

“A lot of people had the idea that we’d just won the lottery, that $100 million was going to arrive via certified mail. I doubt that any of us fully understood that it was a paradigm shift in government spending,” reflected Barb Ewing, YBI’s CEO. “This program wasn’t ‘business as usual,’ with the money being split up between the partners.”

America Makes has been “catalytic” for the downtown incubator, which “isn’t the same organization it was five years ago,” Ewing said. YBI has incorporated additive manufacturing into its focus and will have space dedicated to the technology in its fifth building.

“It offered us a chance to evaluate YBI’s mission and to move away from strictly supporting entrepreneurship to also providing crucial services to the region’s manufacturing base,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, praised America Makes as a “pillar of the community” and cited its role in transforming the region “into the thriving Tech Belt that it is today.”

Through America Makes’ leadership, the manufacturing sector is growing and the region is reaping the benefits, he continued. “America Makes has served as the model for innovation hubs across the country, helping to continue the growth of good-paying advanced manufacturing jobs,” he said.

President Barack Obama twice cited the Youngstown pilot project in his State of the Union Address, in 2013 and 2014, as well as in other speeches, as the model for the manufacturing hub.

Rob Gorham, America Makes executive director, and Ralph Resnick, its founding director, will both speak at tomorrow’s event, during which they will address the achievements of the institute’s past five years as well as what lies ahead, according to a news release announcing the event.

“There’s no question that America Makes has accomplished a great deal in its first five years,” Resnick said. “Not only did America Makes pave the way for the institutes to follow within the Manufacturing USA network as a trailblazing and successful example of the public-private partnership and collaborative model, but we also made substantial contributions to advance the [additive manufacturing] industry, fostering a highly collaborative infrastructure for the open exchange of [additive manufacturing] information and research.”

Operated by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, America Makes today has a membership of more than 180 member organizations. Since its inception, America Makes has established and managed a $100 million portfolio and funded 66 projects.

“America Makes is the first Manufacturing USA institute to reach this initial five-year milestone,” said Tracy Frost, director of the Department of Defense’s Manufacturing USA Institutes and acting director of the department’s ManTech Program. “Throughout the past five years, the America Makes team has created a collaborative environment that has already started to bring technology advancements from the lab to the factory floor, produce more competitive products, and reaffirm the United States’ place of leadership in the global manufacturing market.”

The “tipping point of mass adoption” of the technology is approaching, and manufacturers should be looking at additive manufacturing to consider the opportunities and implications for their respective industries, Ewing said. “Companies from across Ohio are reaching out to us for assistance in understanding how – and when – the technology can be applied effectively in their operations,” she said.

Manufacturers already are using the technology for rapid prototyping, low-volume tooling and performance enhancements such as light-weighting and increased energy efficiency, she said. As the technology evolves, more products will be developed using direct part production, as with Adidas’ partnership with Carbon to mass produce 3-D printed shoes, she said. As consumers begin to comprehend the performance enhancements that the technology offers, demand will increase exponentially, as Apple drove the adoption of other smart-phone technologies.

“Our manufacturing base has the opportunity to be on the leading edge of the technology and to regain our competitive edge. Whether it’s the disruption of the supply chain, the materials capabilities, improved speed to market, faster/less costly tooling, [additive manufacturing] is going to continue to evolve until it touches every facet of production in some way,” she said.

In addition to the event here, America Makes’ nationwide membership community will celebrate the event virtually via social media through the posting of photos or videos using the hashtag #AMfiveyears.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.