3D printing may be a cool technology seen in fab labs and hackerspaces, but it also is about to change the face of big industry. Ultimately, with its lightweight footprint, high levels of customization, and speedy delivery, 3D printing promises to make domestic manufacturing more competitive than overseas manufacturers.
The promise of this new technology is not lost on US policymakers, nor the US military, who have just announced plans to build an Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio. (Additive manufacturing is another, more industrial-strength name for 3D printing.)
According to a report in Innovation News Daily, the center, a public-private partnership headed by the US military, is being 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% energy use compared to today’s ‘subtractive’ manufacturing processes.
Five federal agencies - the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Commerce, the National Science Foundation, and NASA – jointly committed to invest $45 million in the institute. An initial investment of $30 million was awarded in this week's announcement.
The institute will also receive an additional $40 million from a consortium of manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations based in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, it is reported. This represents the first of 15 manufacturing innovation institutes planned by the federal government.