Manufacturing Hub Links Health-Care Needs to Resources

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Rapidly responding to immediate equipment demands such as those arising from the COVID-1s pandemic is why national manufacturing hubs such as America Makes were established, its executive director, John Wilczynski, observed Monday.

Wilczynski and America Makes hosted a webinar to discuss the additive manufacturing center’s role in addressing the outbreak, particularly its newly established COVID-19 Health Care Needs and AM Capabilities Repository.

The repository is an online platform that will link the needs of the health-care industry with additive-manufacturing resources that can fulfill those needs, he explained. It is a collaboration of America Makes, the Federal Drug Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Institutes of Health.

“The key for us is trying to identify where additive manufacturing can make an impact,” Wilczynski said. As one of the Department of Defense’s manufacturing innovation institutes, America Makes is “in a perfect position to bring together the community and rally around this particular problem.”

The repository grew out of a discussion 10 days ago among the leaders of the national manufacturing hubs – of which America Makes was the first to be established – about lack of coordination at the national level regarding their roles, according to Wilczynski.

During that discussion, he said being able to react during such a national crisis “really feels like why the institutes were setup and funded in the first place,” he remarked.

“We’d always thought about this as a national-defense-related activity,” he continued. “We’re now seeing the power of being able to convene the community together and coordinate them to take a direct and specific action around a technology.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, praised the manufacturing hub’s new initiative. In a statement, he pointed to the “severe shortage” of personal protective equipment needed by health-care workers and first responders and the importance of leveraging the “full force of American manufacturing to meet that need.”

The online repository, which was announced last week, will permit health care providers to submit their specific needs though one portal. Manufacturers can submit their additive manufacturing capabilities through a separate portal on the site, and designers can submit designs for solutions.

The partners will evaluate the designs to make sure they are safe and link the health-care providers with manufacturers within a specific geographic area. Manufacturers can download designs from the NIH print exchange website.

Designers will be able to access the specific needs via the critical needs list compiled by Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will be posted in the resources section of the page, said America Makes spokesman Andrew Resnick.

“Our goal is to be able to have the site automatically tie needs and capabilities using automation and artificial intelligence to determine which geographic areas need which specific item,” Resnick continued. The idea is to create “a single source of truth” where individuals and companies can “confidently go to for data” and then determine if they can move forward.

“We want to quickly parse out things that aren’t worth continuing to look at. We can’t waste resources on making a mousetrap 37 different ways,” Wilczynski added. The objective of America Makes is to “be the trusted agent to bring all of those pieces together, but not actually initiating contracts.”

During the webinar, Wilczynski emphasized the kinds of information wanted and who needs to provide it. On the health care side, he said the information about what is needed should come from the personnel who manage those resources at health care centers. Designs that come with information such as testing data and testimonials from clinical professionals will be viewed more favorably, he said.

“The more information that people can package when they do their design submission, the more effective, and our ability to expedite the process will improve dramatically,” Wilczynski said.

The site’s functionality launched Sunday, so no designs have gone through the process yet, Resnick said. “However, we expect that to change quickly over the next few days.”

Copyright 2020 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.