News Feature | May 9, 2014

Air Force Collaborates With Private Sector To Enhance U.S. Manufacturing Capability

By Trisha Leon, contributing writer

AirForce 3D Printing

There is a new resource for the development of manufacturing technology. The Air Force Research Laboratory, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate (AFRL/RX) has brought together diverse groups from academia, industry, and government to create America Makes, an institute that will develop and foster manufacturing innovation. As the first Institute of Manufacturing Innovation, America Makes will serve as an example of best practices for the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. The technical focus area for the first institute is additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D Printing, a suite of emerging technologies to fabricate metallic, plastic, ceramic, and electronic parts for applications as diverse as lightweight aerospace structures and custom biomedical implants, all using a layer-by-layer technique where material is placed precisely based on a 3D digital file.

There has been much buzz around additive manufacturing, and rightly so. It allows a high level of manufacturing flexibility, especially for the military. Additive manufacturing provides the capacity to produce repair parts in theater, allowing for last-minute design adjustments in response to mission changes, and building complex parts more affordably. The main goal of the institute is to bridge the gap between basic research and technology adoption.

Management of America Makes is through a cooperative agreement where participating organizations share a vision for transitioning manufacturing technology, creating an adaptive workforce capable of meeting industry needs and further increasing domestic competitiveness. Led by the Youngstown Business Incubator, an abandoned furniture warehouse in downtown Youngstown, OH, has been transformed into an urban manufacturing loft with open collaborative laboratory spaces, and state-of-the-art additive manufacturing equipment has been entrusted to the Innovation Factory by member companies. This environment encourages technology development and dissemination, while providing small businesses access to necessary equipment and expertise.

America Makes has developed a national strategy for additive manufacturing with strong leadership from the member companies and launched over twenty applied research projects focusing on technical areas in design, materials characterization, process monitoring and control, and qualification and certification of additive manufacturing material and processes. Without doubt additive manufacturing technology will continue to progress and contribute to the growth of the manufacturing industry.