Valley Ideal for Aerospace Industry, Leaders Say

VIENNA, Ohio – Northeastern Ohio — especially the Mahoning Valley — is fertile ground for developing a deep manufacturing and supply base for the aerospace industry, which is already a thriving part of the state’s economy.

That’s the message business, military and academic leaders delivered to the Ohio Aerospace & Aviation Technology Committee Friday during a meeting at the Youngstown Air Reserve Station.

The objective was to inform the panel of the various advanced manufacturing initiatives underway in the region, especially in the Mahoning Valley, said committee member state Sen. Sean O’Brien, D-32. “We wanted to showcase what is happening here in Northeast Ohio as well as the base itself,” he said.

On Friday, the base hosted a “Friends and Family Day” precursor to this weekend’s “Thunder Over the Valley” Air Show featuring the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds.

The committee was formed in 2014, and its membership consists of Ohio legislators, aerospace industry leaders, academics and military officials.

Institutions such as Youngstown State University, Kent State University, Case Western Reserve University, the Youngstown Business Incubator, and private companies are breaking new ground in research and development that will have an impact in the aerospace industry, O’Brien said.

YSU, for example, is engaged with organizations from all of these sectors, including the Air Force Research Laboratory, to boost the region’s aerospace and aviation economy through research in additive manufacturing, said Mike Hripko, YSU’s associate vice president of research.

Since America Makes was established in Youngstown, YSU’s research portfolio in additive manufacturing has grown exponentially, Hripko said. America Makes was the first of the Obama administration’s network of advanced manufacturing centers, named Manufacturing USA. America Makes focuses on the research, development and use of additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3-D printing.

The organization has coordinated projects that bring together entities in the defense industry, academia and the private sector to develop and improve this manufacturing technology.

One project that has real potential impact for the Youngstown Air Reserve Station and other military installations is the Maturation of Additive Manufacturing for Low Cost Sustainment, or MAMLS, Hripko said.

YSU, the University of Dayton, America Makes and other partners are working to develop a process in which replacement parts for aging aircraft are 3-D printed on demand, Hripko explained. “It reduces the cost of maintenance and reduces the length of aircraft downtime. Additive manufacturing enables the cost-effective production of low-volume parts, which would otherwise be manufactured manually using slower and often less precise manufacturing technologies.”

Hripko said the first phase of research for the project is finished, and a second phase has been funded. “The total budget of this project alone is $8 million,” he said.

The key to securing additional research dollars is to sustain the collaborative efforts between the private and public sectors, Hripko told the committee.

Endeavors such as the YBI and the newly formed Mahoning Valley Innovation and Commercialization Center stand to boost the profile of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley even more, he said.

Col. Daniel Sarachene, commander of the 910th Airlift Wing, which is stationed at the Vienna base, said the effort with YSU, America Makes and the Air Force Research Lab, “aims to improve existing aircraft design and shorten existing logistical lines need to acquire and manufacture aviation parts.”

Sarachene briefed committee members on the squadron’s mission and its ongoing importance to the local economy, national defense and peacetime operations.

While its primary mission is deployment of personnel and cargo to military forward areas all over the world, the 910th is the sole asset of the Department of Defense dedicated to aerial spray missions during wartime and peacetime, Sarachene said.

These missions are integral to controlling disease transmitted by insects in war zones, at defense installations, or the aftermath of natural disasters such as hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Sarachene said.

Moreover, the commander emphasized the squadron’s impact in the community, and establishing partnerships that are important to the future of the base.

Local businessman Charles George, president of Boardman-based Strangepress, told the committee that his work in additive manufacturing could have a dramatic impact on the aerospace industry.

The company is working with other partners, including America Makes, to create a machine capable of printing large-scale additive manufacturing parts, a segment of the process called big area additive manufacturing, or BAAM.

“It does not take a lot of imagination to see many aerospace applications for this machine,” George said. “It will be possible to manufacture a mold and produce a finished part on the same machine. This is a true game-changer in additive manufacturing,” he said.

In a separate but similar venture, Strangepresse, along with the Manufacturing Advocacy Growth Network, or Magnet, Case Western Reserve University and the University of Akron, has designed another new machine capable of large-scale printing, George said.

The company is now building a demonstration platform that “will be the first of its kind in the industry,” George said. “It is expected that this could be the start of a multi-million-dollar business right here in northeastern Ohio.”

An apprenticeship program is in its early stages, George said, and noted that the project is seeking interns from YSU and other universities across the country. “This model is a huge opportunity for the state of Ohio as it is my company,” he said.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.