The White House recently launched an initiative aimed to promote 3D printing in small to mid-sized U.S. manufacturers. The Additive Manufacturing Forward (AM Forward) initiative would require large U.S. manufacturing companies to purchase 3D printed parts from small U.S. based companies as opposed to overseas suppliers.
A few of the initiative’s goals are to bring more manufacturing work to the U.S. while providing support to small and mid-size manufacturers for technological production improvements as well as training and certification related to such programs. The administration is also hoping the initiative will strengthen supply chains that have been severely impacted through rising costs, material shortages, and increased transportation costs and lead times.
Several large corporations have voluntarily joined the initiative, including GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Siemens Energy, with hopes that more will join. These companies have pledged that varying percentages of their purchasing will go toward small to mid-sized manufacturers using additive technologies. In addition, several companies such as Lockheed Martin and Siemens will train their suppliers on additive manufacturing and participate in university and technical school programs to enhance additive workforce development.
Additive manufacturing can be beneficial to manufacturers in many ways. The process consists of using 3D printers to build products on-demand, which can allow businesses to carry fewer parts on hand, produce spare parts for customers on an as-needed basis, and reduce inventory carrying costs. Additive manufacturing can also ease strained supply chains by giving companies the ability to produce more diverse products in-house and can also drastically reduce lead times as a result. But many manufacturers have been slow to adopt additive manufacturing due to difficulties finding labor that is properly certified to operate the 3D printers and the initial investment in machines.
To address the employee training hurdle, the federal government is launching several programs to provide technical assistance. The Department of Defense’s Manufacturing Technology Program Office is working with America Makes to create a curriculum for workforce training. The U.S. Department of Labor will provide assistance to additive manufacturers in developing apprenticeship programs, although details of the program are not yet available. Also, the Department of Energy has made its Manufacturing Demonstration Facility located in Knoxville, Tennessee, available to small to mid-size manufacturers to test additive manufacturing techniques.
Locally, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry offers grants for apprenticeships across multiple industries, through its PAsmart program. Resources are also available through many county workforce development boards, such as Philadelphia Works, MontcoWorks, and Bucks County Workforce & Economic Development.
There are also several financing options to assist manufacturers in acquiring 3D printing equipment. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has opened its Business and Industry program to rural manufacturers to help acquire 3D printers. The Export-Import Bank’s domestic lending program will assist manufacturers with additive manufacturing equipment upgrades. And the Small Business Administration will work with participants of the AM Forward initiative to utilize the SBA’s 504 Loan Program and Small Business Investment Company program.
For manufacturers who are currently on the fence about investing in additive manufacturing equipment, whether due to the cost of capital or uncertainty in having the workforce to use the equipment, the AM Forward initiative could provide some benefits to help overcome these challenges that many small to mid-size manufacturers face. The AM Forward initiative could also create the opportunity to obtain supply contracts with large corporations for which many manufacturers previously could not compete.
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