Team NEO Unveils ‘Roadmap’ to Guide Additive Manufacturing

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Adoption of additive manufacturing methods across certain business sectors could result in an increase of between $500 million and $1.5 billion worth of goods in northeastern Ohio by 2025, specialists say.

It’s among the major findings in a new “roadmap” released by Team NEO that identifies new targets and opportunities for 3D printing technology in this region.

“Much has changed in the additive manufacturing space,” says Jay Foran, senior vice president of industry and innovation and roadmap project leader at Team NEO.  

It’s been five years since development specialists, industry partners and academics from northeastern Ohio launched the first roadmap intended to guide the growth of additive manufacturing in the region.

In that time, new technology has helped accelerate adoption of 3D printing, enabling production of larger, more sophisticated components and products that have a wide range of applications. Moreover, the impact of a global pandemic has ushered in both challenges and opportunities to employ this technology across a menu of different industries.

Conscious of these changes, Team NEO – assisted by a working group of industry professionals, university faculty, and workforce and economic development leaders – released an updated roadmap designed to pave the way for 3D printing to gain more acceptance among manufacturers in the future.

“What drove us to refresh this roadmap was that, during COVID-19, everyone was scurrying around to find PPE (Personal Protective Equipment),” Foran says. “This is a refreshed roadmap based on the successes of the previous roadmap.”

In response to the coronavirus pandemic last year, several companies that use additive manufacturing were able to deploy PPE products at a rapid clip, addressing immediate concerns over public safety. 

“The pandemic did a lot to show the value of additive manufacturing,” he says.

Also, Foran says that JobsOhio, the state’s private economic development arm, has adopted 3D printing as part of its core job growth strategy across Ohio. This, he says, could help bring additional resources to the table.

Jacob Duritsky, vice president of strategy and resources and roadmap project manager at Team NEO, says the first roadmap was successful in identifying critical target industries in which additive manufacturing could be best used.

The new roadmap found five key sectors in northeastern Ohio most likely to benefit from using additive manufacturing. These include construction products, plastics and rubber, transportation equipment (mostly aerospace and automotive), medical and dental product manufacturing, and metals production.

Duritsky says total output from these business segments could conservatively grow by $500 million in 2025 should additive manufacturing retain its “fair share” of adoption in northeastern Ohio.  

However, a best-case scenario shows that these sectors could collectively boost their gross domestic product by as much as $1.5 billion in four years should 3D printing exceed conservative adoption rates.

Yet the impact of the pandemic could push these numbers even higher, Duritsky says.  

“With PPE conversion and the way manufacturers changed production, it could have significantly more upside then what we’re showing here,” he says. “We don’t yet know.”

There are also other sectors of the regional economy not included in the roadmap that might find adoption of additive manufacturing useful, Duritsky notes.

In order to achieve these numbers, Team NEO set forth a series of goals that includes efforts to promote awareness of the technology and drive forward the case for adopting additive manufacturing, Duritsky says. 

At the same time, it’s imperative that initiatives are in place to elevate northeastern Ohio’s already global status as a center for 3D printing in order to attract new investment, Duritsky notes.  

America Makes, for example, the first of a national network of advanced manufacturing hubs launched during the Obama administration, is headquartered in Youngstown. 

Meanwhile, the Youngstown Business Incubator has since opened its Tech Block Building No. 5, which houses companies engaged in different aspects of additive manufacturing.

Other objectives include improving the talent pool needed to develop a skilled workforce, developing a nationally recognized education program geared at 3D printing, advancing new product development and expanding research and the potential of commercialization through smart technology.

In the past, manufacturers have been more willing to make the up-front investments to develop new processes such as additive manufacturing as long as there were some state grants or subsidies to offset the costs, says Barb Ewing, CEO of the Youngstown Business Incubator.

But those grant dollars just aren’t available anymore, she says. That presented a challenge for organizations such as the YBI to attract portfolio companies looking to develop additive manufacturing capabilities.

Yet the pandemic – along with growing demand among manufacturers looking to become more efficient – has caused a shift in how these companies approach production. 

“What we have seen since then are a lot of inquiries coming from companies with no expectation of any type of assistance,” Ewing says. The YBI then works with these companies to help mitigate costs through other means.

She says that planning strategies and synergies created as a result of Team NEO’s roadmap places the YBI in a competitive position to attract new tech firms and talent.

“We’re in a position that we otherwise would not be – talking to companies from around the world,” Ewing says, including firms based in Colorado, Great Britain and Asia.

“These things are happening as a result of this greater work,” Ewing says. 

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.