Those fortunate enough to have attended FIERF’s Tech Days in early April (generously hosted by The Timken Company) got eyes- and ears-full about additive manufacturing (AM) technologies from a few presenters. AM is a topic and technology about which we’ve run feature articles and spoken of in this column before, and great strides are being made in AM as a means of maintaining and improving the competitiveness of the U.S. manufacturing sector.
To this end, President Obama in 2012 called for the creation of a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) consisting of regional hubs that would accelerate the development, scale-up and adoption of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies. In May of that year, the federal government solicited proposals from teams led by nonprofit organizations or universities to establish an Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute. The solicitation sought proposals that included technical and business plans and detailed steps to accelerate research, development and demonstration in AM and to transition the technology to manufacturing enterprises in the U.S. In August 2012, a consortium led by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM) was selected to establish the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.
Last October, the Institute announced a new identity – America Makes. Based in Youngstown, Ohio, America Makes is an extensive network of nearly 100 companies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions and government agencies from all over the country. According to Ralph Resnick, founding director of the Institute and NCDMM president and CEO, “America Makes is a vehicle for the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute to raise our profile, reach a wider audience to include the hobbyist and the entrepreneur and, ultimately, provide a richer member experience. America Makes sets the stage for us to realize our mission of reinvigorating the U.S. manufacturing industry and jobs market by serving a strong message.”
This mission is fostered through the open exchange of AM information and research; the development, evaluation and deployment of manufacturing technologies; the inclusion of companies and academic institutions to train a skilled workforce; and the development of its role as a clearing house between commercial, academic and government institutions that seek to further the AM industry to the benefit of the U.S. manufacturing sector.
So, what has all this to do with the forging industry, you might reasonably ask? The full answer, of course, lies years into the future, but for starters AM shows promise in the areas of part prototyping, tool and die making, and short-run small-component manufacture.
Or is AM more of a threat to the forging community? What used to be called rapid prototyping is, after all, now called additive manufacturing. AM has truly made great strides in its development during the past two decades, but when it comes to the mass manufacture of high-strength metal components rapidly and for a reasonable price, forgers have not much, as yet, to worry about.
As for America Makes, it is a good thing to see the U.S proactively protecting and nurturing its lead in global AM research, deployment and market development.
In August’s Editorial we’ll take a closer look at the business side of additive manufacturing.
Dean M. Peters, Editor