Making in America: (Hopefully) Great Again as 3D Printing Looks to the New White House

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GettyImages-520268708-640x480Today, my fellow Americans and I see a new president sworn in as the United States moves on to its next political chapter. Whatever your thoughts on the incoming POTUS or the outgoing Commander in Chief, somewhat away from the light of the political main stage is an area sure yet to feel the impact as power shifts hands: tech.

Specifically, what do the next four years mean for 3D printing? That, so far, remains a big question mark (though Trump has noted that 3D printing is among areas he considers the US to have superiority) but one lesson history always repeats is that to go forward, we have to first examine where we have been. So what have the last eight years meant for 3D printing under President Barack Obama?

obama3President Obama became, in 2014, the first sitting US President to be 3D scanned and 3D printed. The artist told us about the technology behind the 3D printed bust, the most modern and detailed portrait of a president history has yet seen, and shortly thereafter we saw that original piece one-upped by Mcor as they created a detailed, full-color version. But it’s not just Obama’s face (or llama-face) that has left its mark on 3D printing during his tenancy in the White House. The White House itself has been home to initiatives such as the National Week of Making, inaugurated in 2014 with the first White House Maker Fair and celebrated with full weeks dedicated to making in 2015 and 2016, embracing a Nation of Makers and even hosting its own 3D printed ornament design contest.

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Obama visiting Boise State University in 2015

As we moved through Obama’s administration, we saw his interest in 3D printing demonstrated time and again through visits to college campuses, endorsement of 3D printed vehicles, and speaking internationally at events such as Hannover Messe. Last year, Obama announced the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, where 3D printing plays a major role, and took advice from a nine-year-old maker at the White House Science Fair. Of course it hasn’t all been easy for technology, as policymakers needed more information to understand the economic impact of technologies such as 3D printing, and some initiatives that seemed to hold a lot of promise haven’t always delivered.

d24bc7_be128ac461bb45ef8be27102a022701a-mv2_d_4104_2736_s_4_2As 2016 went on and the Obama Administration faced its final months, the climate in 3D printing became moodier as makers looked to candidates to fill the nation’s highest office. Some had strong opinions that they revealed through critical satire, others through likenesses that were a bit more flattering, and some who just thought all politics are for the dogs or would provide political pricks for all. Once the official candidates were out there, we saw both major parties’ candidates 3D printed as larger-than-life bobbleheads, with Trump’s bobblehead even gracing the streets of my native Cleveland at last summer’s Republican National Convention. The entire 2016 election process was quite a minefield, as 3D printing got political. Even to the very end of the process, 3D printing stepped up to keep us apprised of election night results.

And here we are: 20 January 2017, Inauguration Day.

Having come through years of varying uses of 3D printing in politics, from the White House itself to satirical Shapeways shops, from support of technology to advances made possible thanks to dedicated funding and focus, we’re walking boldly now to the next chapter. And all we can do is hope that 3D printing will keep America making greatly again.

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