Funding Helps Expand Air Force Project at America Makes

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – An America Makes initiative to help the Air Force develop the capability of creating replacement parts for older equipment will soon expand to another branch of the armed forces.

An announcement will be made in the coming weeks regarding funds secured for a similar project involving America Makes, the Army and partners in the Pittsburgh area, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan said Tuesday.

Ryan, D-13 Ohio, was at America Makes for the presentation of a ceremonial check for $9,045,915, representing funding for Phase Three of the project known as Maturation of Advanced Manufacturing for Low-cost Sustainment, or MAMLS.

The project basically looks at the Air Force’s problem of having to maintain aircraft that sometimes are 60 years old, including B-52 aircraft, said Dave Siddle, senior project manager for America Makes. In some cases, the companies that produced the original parts are out of business or the designs and tooling no longer exist, so the Air Force is unable to get replacements at a reasonable cost or within a reasonable lead time.

“Without them, their planes are grounded. So we came to [America Makes] and talked to them about advanced manufacturing technologies that would enable a much quicker turnaround,” Siddle said.

The recently completed first phase of the project looked at opportunities to employ the technology across the entire Air Force, while the second phase focused on building out the manufacturing capability, said Rob Gorham, executive director of America Makes. The third phase involves doing the printing process on three specific applications, he said.

“This money is to throw gasoline on a fire that’s already burning here,” Ryan said. The funds awarded Tuesday represent the latest contribution of a total $30 million in Defense Department funding for MAMLS from the 2016, 2017 and 2018 federal fiscal year budgets. Ryan serves on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

“We’re looking at building out a long-term, sustainable economic model that is going to put us at the forefront of this area,” he said.

Additive manufacturing today is a $7 billion industry and is growing at 25% annually. The industry is projected to add three million to five million well-paying jobs over the next decade, many of which Ryan believes will be created in the region. “Our community is going to be at the forefront of that tidal wave,” he said.

The congressman reflected on the formation of the TechBelt Initiative during a 2007 meeting at YSU. The objective of that meeting was to move local communities away from the belief that they needed to compete with each other to “a broader vision” of a larger region competing globally.

That meeting led to the application that secured America Makes for Youngstown in 2017, the pilot for a series of manufacturing hubs launched by President Barack Obama. Ryan credited the level of collaboration beyond the immediate area as the reason the application succeeded.

“Our competitive advantage here is our collaboration,” he observed.

Today TechBelt involves economic development, academic and government representatives from northeastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia.

“With our partners, we’re making a real impact,” Gorham said. Those partners include Youngstown State University, M-7 Technologies, Youngstown Business Incubator, Humtown Products and Youngstown Air Reserve Station, as well as others across the country, he said.

When the announcement was made that the additive manufacturing hub would be based in Youngstown, YSU and YBI made a “hard pivot” to focus on additive manufacturing, said Mike Hripko, YSU associate vice president for external affairs, government relations and economic development. Since then, the university has attracted some of the “best researchers” and renowned faculty.

“We’ve developed an international reputation for additive manufacturing,” Hripko said.

Advanced manufacturing technology has helped M-7 transition from its previous skill set as a manufacturer of spare parts for steel mills, which was adversely impacted by the closings of the mills decades ago, said the company’s president, Mike Garvey. M-7 now is on the hunt for training best practices to develop the workforce that will be needed.

“We see this as a sustainable model in the industrial base that we currently have,” Garvey said.

Since launching America Makes, the local goal has been to create “an ecosystem … that will make us the Silicon Valley of additive manufacturing,” Ryan said.

The next step is growing the pipeline of workers who will be employed in the industry, he noted.

“Our conversation over the next few months is going to be how are we going to connect with community colleges and local high schools to begin to focus on developing the workforce as this industry grows,” Ryan explained. “We want to make sure people in our community have the opportunity to fill these jobs.

The Maturation of Advanced Manufacturing for Low-cost Sustainment project, while sponsored by the Air Force, will have an impact on the entire Defense Department, Gorham said. The Navy and the Army are “already looking at outputs from this project to try to find ways to deploy that across their networks,” he said.

Having the two service branches doing “cutting-edge research here” is “when you begin to develop the Silicon Valley of additive manufacturing,” Ryan added. “We are becoming the hub of the most progressive additive manufacturing initiative in the entire country and hopefully the entire world.”

A few printed, nonstructural components already are being used in aircraft, Siddle said.

The project is close to bearing fruit, but Gorham conceded there still is “a long way to go.” The Air Force continues to make large investments and officials believe that 3D printing has “a huge opportunity to make a real impact” across the armed forces.

“We need to develop material databases. We have to characterize the quality of materials and we still have some things we need to do around the printing process itself. The printers are still, in some cases – while maturing – a little inconsistent in the way they actually do the printing process,” Gorman said.

“We’re making tremendous progress. We’re close — probably three to five years out.”

Pictured: Mike Hripko, YSU associate vice president for external affairs, government relations and economic development; U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio; Rob Gorham, executive director of America Makes; Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator; and Mike Garvey, president of M-7 Technologies.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.