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3D printing the 'next revolution' in manufacturing: President Obama

Posting in Aerospace

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the revival of the long-suffering U.S. manufacturing economy, and points to 3D printing as the technology that will create even more manufacturing opportunities.

Here is an excerpt of the speech:

"Our first priority is making America a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing. After shedding jobs for more than 10 years, our manufacturers have added about 500,000 jobs over the past three. Caterpillar is bringing jobs back from Japan. Ford is bringing jobs back from Mexico. After locating plants in other countries like China, Intel is opening its most advanced plant right here at home. And this year, Apple will start making Macs in America again.

"There are things we can do, right now, to accelerate this trend. Last year, we created our first manufacturing innovation institute in Youngstown, Ohio. A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything. There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns. So tonight, I’m announcing the launch of three more of these manufacturing hubs, where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs. And I ask this Congress to help create a network of fifteen of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is Made in America."

The launch of the Youngstown 3D printing center was highlighted at SmartPlanet last August, when U.S. policymakers and the U.S. military announced plans to build an Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. (Additive manufacturing is another, more industrial-strength name for 3D printing.)

The center, a public-private partnership headed by the U.S. military, was created with the purpose of harnessing “the power of 3D printing to transform almost any digital blueprint into a physical object.”

3D printing may have applications within a wide range of industries including defense, aerospace, automotive, and metals manufacturing. The Department of Defense envisions customizing parts on site for operational systems that would otherwise be expensive to make or ship, according to a White House statement. The Department of Energy anticipates that additive processes would be able to save more than 50 percent energy use compared to today’s "subtractive" manufacturing processes.

3D printing may be the big thing in fab labs and hackerspaces, but it is also becoming a part of the greater economy as well. A lightweight footprint, high levels of customization, and speedy delivery means 3D printing may help make domestic manufacturing more competitive than shipping finished goods from overseas.

3D printing is an international phenomenon, of course. Widespread adoption of the technology will lift manufacturing economies across the globe.

(Photo credit: The White House.)

(Thumbnail photo credit: Joe McKendrick.)

— By on February 12, 2013, 11:01 AM PST

Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure