America Makes Prepares Shift in Mission

YOUNGSTOWN – America Makes is about to undertake a long-planned makeover as it prepares to refocus its mission. 

A $600,000 renovation is planned for the first floor of its national headquarters at 236 W. Boardman St. in Youngstown. It’s the first of several hoped-for phases to accommodate the manufacturing-technology hub’s new emphasis on advocacy and education.

The larger industrial equipment is being moved offsite, either being returned to its owners as entrustment agreements expire or transferred to local community partners such as Youngstown Business Incubator and the Youngstown State University Excellence Training Center, says John Wilczynski, executive director of America Makes.

Some smaller educational 3D printing systems will remain at the headquarters building to help explain the technology to guests.

Though not abandoning its traditional role in additive manufacturing research – in 2019, the Youngstown-based manufacturing hub entered into a third cooperative agreement worth $322 million with the Air Force Research Laboratory – America Makes will now focus more on expanding awareness of the technology and on advocacy, Wilczynski says.  

The role America Makes plays in the additive manufacturing space is changing as the technology progresses and adoption increases, he says.

The center historically focused on applied research and development and the associated education to exploit that, as well as development of the additive manufacturing ecosystem, community and supply chain.

As that progresses and more applications are discovered, additive manufacturing is moving toward “a more industrially capable technology,” Wilczynski says.

America Makes won’t be the place where entrepreneurs will come to develop their “next great idea or process,” he explains. Others in the area, including YBI, YSU or other businesses, “have quite a bit of capability” in that area.

“We will be more focused on convening and coordinating the community around a problem set, whatever that might be relative to your technology. Then working together to figure out where we’re at today and where we need to be tomorrow, and how we close those gaps,” he says.

“It ultimately will be a collaboration space.”

In addition to its Youngstown headquarters, America Makes operates satellite centers at the University of Texas at El Paso, Texas A&M and Wichita State University. The satellites expand the manufacturing hub’s geographic reach into different industries, says Andrew Resnick, director of communications and public affairs.

Erin O’Donnell, director of partnerships and community relations, jokes she often hears America Makes characterized as a “mythical, behind the scenes” organization.  

Planning for the headquarters renovation began about two years ago, when America Makes worked with a communications consultant to develop key themes and consistent messaging, O’Donnell says.

America Makes then hired a firm to determine the themes to incorporate into the renovation. It settled on five: introducing people to additive manufacturing; national impact; regional and local impact; education and process; and a state-of- the-art training and conference center.  

“We don’t produce anything here at America Makes ourselves. We collaborate and convene the industry to help promote the technology and advance the technology,” Resnick says. “But that leaves a lot to be desired as far as what the community knows and sees and can find out about additive manufacturing. That’s really the goal of creating this space.”  

According to Wilczynski, there is a “tremendous need” for awareness, education, reskilling and upskilling as businesses look at adopting the technology.

“There’s a lot of opportunity here but there’s also risk as those industries start to transition,” he says. “We need to make sure the business community understands how quickly this is coming. We as a community additive manufacturing ecosystem have to be providing solutions so that we can address this before it becomes a problem.”

The renovation is in the early phases, but the goal is to have its first phase complete by early summer, Resnick says.

The aim is to “create more of a community space” where people can learn about the impact of additive manufacturing nationwide and in the Mahoning Valley.

That’s important because it’s an emerging technology, and new businesses employing additive manufacturing are popping up and getting tied into the defense supply chain, Resnick says.

In addition, America Makes has “a very extensive educational workforce program” that works with school systems and educators throughout the Mahoning Valley, Ohio and the nation to show future opportunities as the technology emerges.

The research is looking at moving beyond the prototypes that were prevalent in additive manufacturing in the early days to “how these are becoming commercialized, applicable functions for companies,” Resnick says.

That’s happening in sectors ranging from aviation/aerospace – the first to take hold of the technology – to sports applications such as the NFL Challenge competition to design better football helmets, to recent reports of a company looking at building an entire housing development using materials created by additive manufacturing.   

“We are becoming that industry go-to voice for additive manufacturing nationally. We are becoming that voice for the government to look at when you need an expert on additive manufacturing,” Resnick says. “That expertise, that thought leadership, exists right here in Youngstown and that value to the Valley and how that props up the ecosystem in the Valley really can’t be understated.”

In addition to being more aware of additive manufacturing’s capabilities, people also need to be more aware that it is not a situation of “an additive part versus a conventionally made part,” Wilczynski says.

“We’re starting to see a lot of situations where these things are being integrated together,” he explains. “There is a great opportunity for the industrial base to better understand the technology and start using it.”

The headquarters renovation will improve its educational assets.

“We hope to open up more than we have in the past to raise the awareness within the community of what the technology is and how to take advantage of that,” Wilczynski says. “Ultimately, we’re going to be primarily focused on bringing people together, working on the problems facing our technology and coming up with coordinated plans to address those.”

Resnick says he is particularly excited for the training space and conference facility to host events for industry leadership, stakeholders and influencers who visit. 

“Our pillars have always been to convene, coordinate and catalyze,” he says. “The component that we’re really looking forward to is having a seat at the national conversation as it relates to moving manufacturing policy.”

Pictured: Andrew Resnick, communications and public affairs director for America Makes