How 3-D Printing May Help Save the Rust Belt

8.29.12 | Manufacturing is not dead. We’ve written before about new optimism that a  “manufacturing renaissance” can help save an economy that, in places like Youngstown, has been ravaged by factory closures, population decline, and a compounding recession.

Whether the modest rebound some of these cities have seen so far can save local economies in the Midwest is still up for debate, but there was some good news this week with the launch of a new public private manufacturing institute based in Youngstown.

The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) will focus on helping small manufacturers gain access to 3-D printing technology and developing infrastructure for training, research, and product development.

The institute is supported with $30 million in federal funding that will be matched by $40 million in support from local manufacturing firms, universities, community colleges, and nonprofit organizations from the Ohio-Pennsylvania-West Virginia Tech Belt.

The White House hopes to make this the center of an eventual network of 15 such institutes around the country as part of national efforts to support “21st Century manufacturing.”

“This institute will help make sure that the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow take root not in places like China or India, but right here in the United States of America,” Obama said in a statement. “That’s how we’ll put more people back to work and build an economy that lasts.”

The White House release has a helpful explanation of how this new technology works:

Additive manufacturing, often referred to as 3D printing, is a new way of making products and components from a digital model, and will have implications in a wide range of industries including defense, aerospace, automotive, and metals manufacturing. Like an office printer that puts 2D digital files on a piece of paper, a 3D printer creates components by depositing thin layers of material one after another using a digital blueprint until the exact component required has been created.  The Department of Defense envisions customizing parts on site for operational systems that would otherwise be expensive to make or ship.  The Department of Energy anticipates that additive processes would be able to save more than 50% energy use compared to today’s ‘subtractive’ manufacturing processes.

We’ve written before about the power of regional cluster development to spur innovation through collaboration and community. People with different expertise and skill sets — scientists, administrators, business leaders, engineers, educators, health care professionals, for example — work together to share resources and ideas with support from business, government, and higher education. Such networks also provide easier access to workers, suppliers, and products. Research has found that such clusters can increase wages, productivity, and importantly, spark more innovation and development. Of course an important part of this work is that local governments collaborate instead of competing for business dollars.

In a paper last year, BRR Network Member Howard Wial and colleague Susan Helper made the case that states need help in developing and implementing new technologies. Wial recommended states create manufacturing research centers like NAMII to study problems important to a range of manufacturers and businesses.

Wial believes reversing or at least stemming manufacturing job losses is essential to our larger economic recovery. Wial said these efforts should be an important part of state job growth strategies.

Writing at Brookings’ “Up Front” blog, Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program, says he’s impressed with the effort in Ohio and, specifically, the focus on regional collaboration. His post “Hubs of manufacturing: Let’s Get Started” calls for more of these centers to “act as powerful hubs of innovation by drawing university and national laboratory research into focused collaborations with firms, manufacturing supply chains, financiers, and the career-focused education provided by community colleges.”

He said the work highlights the metropolitan nature of the nation’s economy:

Innovation and its deployment does not happen just anywhere. It happens in places, most notably, within metropolitan regions, where firms and workers tend to cluster in close geographic proximity, whether to tap local supplier networks, draw on local workers, or profit from formal and informal knowledge transfer.

For more read “Taking the High Road in Rebuilding Manufacturing.”

Photo/ Missouri S&T.

3 Responses to How 3-D Printing May Help Save the Rust Belt

  1. [...] Network (iStockphoto)Described as the third industrial revolution and the driving force behind a manufacturing renaissance in America’s industrial heartland, 3D printing might also disrupt an industry that has so far shown to be fairly disruption-proof: [...]

  2. [...] as the third industrial revolution and the driving force behind a manufacturing renaissance in America’s industrial heartland, 3D printing might also disrupt an industry that has so far shown to be fairly disruption-proof: [...]

  3. [...] as the third industrial revolution and the driving force behind a manufacturing renaissance in America’s industrial heartland, 3D printing might also disrupt an industry that has so far shown to be fairly disruption-proof: [...]