POINT OF VIEW: American resurgence possible with additive manufacturing


By David Handler and Brett B. Lambert

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On August 16, 2012, some 150 leaders from industry, academia and government gathered in Youngstown, Ohio, to mark a historic occasion – the launch of the National Institute for Additive Manufacturing Innovation, now called ” America Makes ”, focused on accelerating innovations in 3D printing.

Then-President Barack Obama announced the new institute, saying it would “help ensure that the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow take root not in places like China or India, but right here in states. United of America. This is how we will get more people back to work and build an economy that lasts.

While essential to America’s future competitiveness, innovation remains only a part of the benefits this manufacturing process has demonstrated over the past decade.

We believe it is also a major economic force, aligned with Obama’s claim to contribute to a sustainable economy as well as President Joe Biden’s pledge for America to “build back better.” . In particular, metal additive manufacturing – often referred to as 3D printing – is now poised to bring back tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs to the United States and lead to radical change in American supply chains in only a few years if new financial, educational and advocacy measures can be put in place. pursued globally.

To discern the necessary policy changes, it is important to examine the impact and evolution of technology. Since the late 1980s, metal additive manufacturing has been used primarily for tooling and concept modeling in the automotive, medical and aerospace industries. But by the 2010s, work in corporate research and development labs and federal agencies led to groundbreaking applications of technology, and by 2015, GE Aviation had obtained Federal Aviation Administration certification for the first part of the engine. additively manufactured production.

Using new manufacturing technology, engineers envisioned part geometries whose complexity can only be built by additive manufacturing. These designs were then passed to 3D printers full of metallic powder. The printers’ lasers heated and melted the particles in thin layers, gradually forming structures never built before. 3D printing is now used instead of unnecessary ‘subtractive’ machining that eats away at blocks to produce shapes, or ‘formative’ manufacturing – long and expensive processes that put parts into particular shapes to serve a national industrial base. It was only seen as a goal, but it is now a reality.

The additive presents a much greener option – using almost just the amount of material needed for a construction – with new designs. The Oak Ridge National Lab reports that 3D printing reduces the use of raw materials by manufacturers by 90%, making manufacturing a more efficient and less expensive process.

The Fraunhofer Institute in Germany further reports in a recent study that the metal fabrication of titanium parts using powder-bed laser additives emits about 70% less carbon dioxide than the equivalent production by powder-bed processes. traditional milling. This conclusion is further reinforced by the Additive Manufacturer Green Trade Association which pointed out that the design using additives saved “so much fuel over the life of flights that they represented a net environmental benefit” over their conventional counterparts.

Today, manufacturers in various industries have shifted technology from its limited role in the production of prototyping and tooling to a central role in manufacturing products on an industrial scale. Manufacturers of medical devices 3D print porous titanium orthopedic implants capable of stimulating bone growth. The Air Force 3D prints metal spare parts on demand – instead of relying on expensive warehouses or 18-month requisitions of hard-to-find and / or obsolete parts – and plans to save billions of dollars in taxpayers.

Aircraft manufacturers use additive technology to improve the performance of jet engines. For example, GE 3D prints highly efficient fuel nozzles for commercial engines, a part 25% lighter and five times more durable. But it is the design of the nozzles that particularly illustrates the economic impact of 3D printing. Due to its 3D printed form, it eliminated the need to assemble 20 individual components, many of which are produced by outside and overseas suppliers. Since the nozzle had to be built in one print, the 30% cost savings were reinvested in other innovations; accentuating the effect, GE redesigned helicopter engine parts typically built from 300 parts to 3D print just seven assemblies.

As the Economist Intelligence Unit has stated, “Non-additive tooling and retooling can swallow up to 93.5% of traditional manufacturing costs,” but 3D printing often eliminates much of their use.

Replacing this critical value in the production process with an additive not only results in substantial operating cost savings, but also reduces the speed to market of products. Skipping 18 months of tooling allows companies to accelerate the transition of new designs, reduce the risk of innovation and invention, as well as focus on the workforce training skills needed for the next generation of manufacturing in the United States. A recent project on an Air Force F110 additive-manufactured crankcase cover replacement part recently demonstrated the path to tool-less production of molding and machining.

The nature of additive technology enables rapid and inexpensive innovation across the ecosystem, fueling a continuous virtual circle of technological development and productivity.

New machine modalities such as the binder jet offer the potential for drastic improvements in costs and speed for high production industries.

Continuous software improvements will reduce part qualification time. Advances in the handling of powders will make metal printing safer for workers. In short, low barriers to entry will allow the rapid and decentralized development of new technologies and capacities.

Through strong and visionary public-private partnerships between companies and government agencies such as the Ministry of Defense, core technology has demonstrated the benefits of additive manufacturing.

The advantages include: better performance; significant reduction in waste; allowance for new innovation; the ability to develop the workforce to open the future to better paying and more technology-driven jobs; and supply chain flexibility for non-production parts.

But pursuing innovation-based growth requires a business climate that facilitates workers’ access to advanced technologies, capital and retraining opportunities, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises.

The majority of manufacturing in the United States is done among suppliers to large final assembly companies. These suppliers are generally small suppliers, unable to afford capital goods ranging from $ 700,000 to $ 1 million each. In addition to the challenges associated with skills shortages in additive manufacturing, the national manufacturing economy is limited in its ability to recapitalize new technologies and leverage this proven technology to improve the workforce and global supply chains. .

These challenges are only compounded by declining margins given to parts suppliers and the still limited credit markets available to provide loans to small and medium-sized manufacturers for the acquisition of machinery.

According to the Harvard Business Review, even before COVID-19, small businesses continually faced the twin challenges of banks’ reluctance to offer credit and prime contractors late in payment. These challenges lead to cash shortages for the initial purchases that manufacturers need to transition to additive systems procurement.

To overcome these challenges, the government should consider new tax policies such as targeted tax credits for advanced manufacturing technologies, subsidized bank loans for manufacturing equipment, and government-authorized capital spending to do so. advancements in critical manufacturing related to national security, including hypersonics and space launch vehicles. , through authorities such as the Defense Production Act.

The government is expected to present potential solutions to leverage historic investments across America’s industrial base. The Chinese and Europeans both see additive manufacturing as a key part of their industrial policies. The United States cannot afford to fall behind.

Additionally, increased adoption will also require workforce retraining to ensure American manufacturing keeps pace with technological innovation.

This is a ripe area for the pursuit of public-private partnership – with companies offering expanded apprenticeship programs and solid investments made in key federal programs, ranging from the Partnership for Expansion of Manufacturing to Ministry of Commerce to the National Science Foundation’s advanced technological education program, which helps community and technical colleges upgrade and modernize equipment and programs for specific production sectors.

The challenges associated with accessing credit and “skills shortages” were not caused by COVID-19. But the resulting economic crisis has exacerbated these shortcomings. Now, policymakers must explore every tool in the economic toolbox to revitalize manufacturing. This most certainly includes 3D printers and manpower training to take full advantage of this incredible national capacity.

David Handler is Legal Counsel at GE Additive and Brett B. Lambert is Managing Director of Densmore Group LLC and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy.

The subjects: Emerging technologies


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