3D printing is on fire, and doesn’t need any help from the government. But it’s getting it anyway, in a big way. It began late last August when the White House announced that the nation’s first National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) was to be built in Youngstown, Ohio. Youngstown served as a pilot proof-of-concept of President Obama’s $1 billion plan to build 15 such manufacturing innovation hubs across the country, with the intent of revitalizing American manufacturing. You may recall he even mentioned these 3D printing institutes in his last State of the Union Address.
Now a new White House announcement informs us that they are requesting competitive bids for the next three new manufacturing innovation institutes. As with the first center, these institutes will be a public-private partnership built upon a $200 million commitment spread across five Federal agencies – Defense, Energy, Commerce, NASA, and the National Science Foundation. All three institutes will be selected through an open, competitive process, led by the Departments of Energy and Defense, and are expected to be financially self-sustaining.
Two of the institutes will be led by the Department of Defense and will focus on “Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation” and “Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing.” The Department of Energy will lead the third new institute on “Next Generation Power Electronics Manufacturing.”
The White House’s announcement defines the technological topic areas of the new institutes as follows:
- Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation: Advanced design and manufacturing tools that are digitally integrated and networked with supply chains can lead to ‘factories of the future’ forming an agile U.S. industrial base with significant speed to market advantage. A national institute focusing on the development of novel model-based design methodologies, virtual manufacturing tools, and sensor and robotics based manufacturing networks will accelerate the innovation in digital manufacturing increasing U.S. competitiveness.
- Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing: Advanced lightweight metals possess mechanical and electrical properties comparable to traditional materials while enabling much lighter components and products. A national institute will make the U.S. more competitive by scaling-up research to accelerate market expansion for products such as wind turbines, medical devices, engines, armored combat vehicles, and airframes, and lead to significant reductions in manufacturing and energy costs.
- Next Generation Power Electronics: Wide bandgap semiconductor based power electronic devices represent the next major platform beyond the silicon based devices that have driven major technological advances in our economy over the last several decades. Wide bandgap technology will enable dramatically more compact and efficient power electronic devices for electric vehicles, renewable power interconnection, industrial-scale variable speed drive motors and a smarter more flexible grid; in addition to high-performance defense applications (e.g. reducing the size of a sub-station to a suit case).
The $1 billion plan for the 15 institutes is still just that, a plan. We still have to see if congress goes along with his proposal.