America Makes Prepares to Advance Mission

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – The first five years of America Makes’ existence were spent building the business model that will allow it to move forward, its executive director said.

America Makes, established five years ago as the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, celebrated its fifth “birthday” Wednesday. Yesterday was five years from the day when it was announced that a regional partnership had secured the contract for a pilot federal manufacturing innovation center focusing on additive manufacturing technology. 

The only thing missing at America Makes’ fifth birthday party was presents.

There was a photo booth, balloons, party hats, food and drinks, and even a two-layer cake with candles, the cutting of which was preceded by the singing of “Happy Birthday to You” by those in attendance.

“It’s important that we celebrate our successes,” remarked Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator and America Makes’ landlord. America Makes moved into YBI’s West Boardman Street building a month after the Aug. 16, 2012 announcement.  

“Too often in life we just let anniversaries and accomplishments and those things go by without any real recognition of the good work that happened. That’s a mistake on our part,” she continued.

“This is meant to be a party,” Rob Gorham, executive director, said

Over the past five years, America Makes – which was established with a $30 million federal grant matched by the $40 million put up by the early partners – built a  model that isn’t dependent on public funding, though it does require the public sector being involved as a partner, Gorham said.

“Our model is that we know how to bring in enough money with different sources to keep the institute moving forward, and we’re going out and constantly bringing in additional funding to do research projects,” he said. “So we’ve kind of got the flywheel spinning right now.”

America Makes is the first of what has grown to a network of 14 public-private manufacturing hubs, now branded as Manufacturing USA, “the flagship of this experiment,” said Ralph Resnick, president of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining and the founding director of America Makes. NCDMM officially operates America Makes under the federal contract.   

Under the leadership of executive director Ed Morris, who retired earlier this year, membership grew form the original 14 partners to more than 185, Resnick said, “world-class companies” from around the country that are interested in introducing additive manufacturing into their products and processes.

Johnson & Johnson is using the technology to print medical devises, and General Electric is printing components that go into jet engines, Gorham said. “Look what 3-D printers are doing on the International Space Station,” he remarked.

Resnick also pointed out the institute’s impact regionally. When it started, “very little additive manufacturing” was going on in the region. Today, new companies utilizing the technology are arising and Youngstown State University has become “one of the leading centers of additive manufacturing research,” he said. 

One of the institute’s significant achievements is the development of an additive manufacturing roadmap that has helped to define where it needs to put investments and do technical development projects. There are many challenges employing the technology.

“We have a variety of projects that our partners have been working on that address things like improving the precision and improving the speed of the process, improving the material characteristics of the parts, and also looking at putting together a viable additive manufacturing supply chain,” Resnick said.

One of projects undertaken by the institute’s partners was distortion predictor software that allows a manufacturer to correct a flaw that is about to take place and produce a better part as a result, he said.

One of Morris’ accomplishments, Resnick said, was luring Gorham from Lockheed Martin, in Texas where he worked in the aircraft manufacturer’s advanced development projects division, also known as Skunk Works. 

Gorham recalled that he had been told winters in Ohio weren’t bad, but his first was in 2013, the year of the polar vortex. His neighbors told him that was an anomaly, but the following winter was “just as bad, maybe even worse,” the amused Gorham recounted.

Where Resnick discussed America Makes’ first five years, Gorham focused his remarks on where the institute was headed.

“What’s really exciting is the impact we’re about to make,” Gorham remarked.

America Makes, he said, will accomplish that two ways: continuing to grow its network and focusing on workforce.

“It’s so critically important that the partners, not just here but the partners around the country that are working with us, continue to feel confident in the mission that we’re trying to support,” advancing the additive manufacturing industry, he said.

“It’s not just about having members pay into joining. It’s about establishing confidence in the community that we’re trying to establish,” he said.

He would like to see the organization’s current membership double. “We think the louder the voice, the more progress we can make as an additive manufacturing convening organization,” he said. “It’s really the membership network that makes us what America Makes is.”

Training the workforce for additive manufacturing remains a “big need,” he also said. “All these companies are willing to hire engineers, they’re willing to train folks, they’re wanting  to take veterans that are coming back from difficult situations and find ways to leverage their expertise and skill set,” he said.

He also said America Makes will continue to do research projects. It now has a portfolio of 66 projects and $100 million in research and development.

Ewing applauded both objectives as signs of growing demand that indicates America Makes is achieving its “overarching mission” to promote and advance the technology.

Pictured: Rob Gorham, executive director and Ralph Resnick, president of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining and the founding director of America Makes.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.