Economic Development

3-D Manufacturing Hub ‘Cut a Path for Others’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – America Makes serves as a model for the diverse manufacturing hubs that have followed since its creation four years ago, the Youngstown Business Incubator’s chief operating officer told the White House conference on advanced manufacturing.

Barb Ewing was among the featured speakers at the White House Manufacturing USA stakeholder event held Wednesday. Manufacturing USA was announced in September as the new branding for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. During the event, the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute was announced as the 12th Manufacturing USA institute.

“To stay ahead of the competition in the 21st century, we must build a manufacturing sector that is more collaborative, more innovative and more agile than ever before,” said Bruce Andrews, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, rebranded America Makes, was established in 2012 on the YBI campus, the first in President Obama’s network of manufacturing hubs. “We’re very proud of that fact,” Ewing said.

As the first institute, America Makes “cut a path for the others,” she said. “It’s not a cookie-cutter system, but certainly the other institutes have gained from its knowledge,” she remarked. Throughout the day, “numerous references” were made to the institute, she noted.

Ewing’s remarks at the conference focused on America Makes’ impact on the community.

“We were manufacturing before it was cool again,” she remarked. “When you think about Youngstown, you may not think about it being cool, but that’s going to change.”

At the time America Makes was established, YBI was “strictly a technology incubator for software startups,” with “no capabilities” to work with additive manufacturing startups, “let alone be so audacious to suggest that we could work with existing manufacturers to help them understand the industrial applications of the technology,” Ewing continued.

That changed when Humtown Products – “a small pattern shop” in Columbiana that was familiar with the technology — suggested a collaboration with Youngstown State University to teach companies how to create sand cores essential to the metal-casting process, she said. By printing the sand cores, they can be optimized for speed, energy efficiency or weight, or designed to create “very complex castings” that can’t be manufactured by traditional means, and “get them at costs that are equivalent to traditional manufacturing.”

The partners took Humtown’s idea to America Makes, which started connecting them with national organizations “with reputations that outstripped us by far,” including the National Foundry Society and the University of Northern Iowa, Ewing said.

“We were able to take the seed of an idea and grow it into something that has not only transformed YBI from an incubator into something that is developing technology transition programs, but we’re also impacting manufacturers across the country,” she said.

YBI has since developed an additional model for hybrid manufacturing and last year was awarded a state grant to teach companies how to use additive manufacturing technology for low-volume tooling production. The latter initiative is so popular that the program will reach its metrics by the end of the first year of a two-year funding cycle, Ewing reported.

In announcing the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, to be based in Manchester, N.H., the U.S. Department of Defense noted the role that the first 11 institutes are making in developing emerging manufacturing technologies. America Makes, for example, has attracted more than “90 million in new manufacturing investments to its region and train 14,000 workers in the fundamentals of 3-D printing.”

“Keeping our manufacturing base competitive by getting them to adopt new technologies is critical to our future. It’s also where we’ll have the greatest long-term impact,” Ewing said in an email following the event.

No reference was made as to the future of the institutes with the incoming administration, but Ewing noted that president-elect Donald Trump has spoken “at length” regarding the importance of manufacturing. “I hope that bodes well for our future,” she said.

Pictured: Barb Ewing, chief operating officer for the Youngstown Business Incubator, speaks Dec. 21 at the White House Manufacturing USA stakeholder event. 

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.