It seems like everyone and their dog want a piece of the 3D printing action, including industrial entrepreneurs, artists, designers, medical/scientific researchers, or unclassifiable innovators with the new “next big thing” right up their sleeves. But we know that 3D printing is really taking off to new heights in the US when we see government industries, like the nuclear and defense industries, becoming more involved in 3D printing.
We already know President Obama is on board to help 3D printing’s application in industry, since his February 12, 2013 mention of 3D printing in his State of the Union Address. In his address, President Obama announced plans for three new manufacturing sites where businesses will partner with the Departments of Defense and Energy “to turn regions left behind by globalization into global centers of high-tech jobs.”
It was in this speech that he mentioned Youngstown, Ohio’s manufacturing innovation institute — the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute — which he described: “A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything.”
Growing from President Obama’s manufacturing plan and the Department of Energy’s own stated commitment to 3D printing technology, the addition of four national nuclear laboratories and the National Security Campus to America Makes (formerly the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, which has been a project of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining) proves the next steps are being taken to realize the State of the Union idea of 3D print-driven manufacturing hubs. This new partnership is bound to change the direction of these powerful industries — and the 3D printing scene as well.
Ohio-based America Makes has always accepted a range of members including companies, universities, non-profit organizations, and government agencies. The addition of Lawrence Livermore, Oak Ridge, Los Alamos, and Sandia Laboratories, along with the National Security Campus, makes sense when you consider the Departments of Energy and Defense’s long-term needs for design innovation and better security measures.
How can the nuclear industry use 3D printing? 3D printing will open up design options: it can create traditional parts, but the real attraction is that there is greater flexibility to create unique parts — for example, that are hollow, more geometrically complex, or even multi-layered.
Europe has already embraced 3D printing technology’s nuclear industry applications — including for cleanup and disposal. The company that runs Europe’s largest nuclear site, Sellafield, has used 3D printing technology to design and make a new lid for a 40 tonne Solid Waste Export Flask, which is used to ship radioactive sludge across the Sellafield site.
With the promise of better design, more affordable costs, nuclear cleanup potential, and, most importantly, the creation of new jobs, the news that the nuclear industry is getting more involved in 3D printing — with the addition of four National Nuclear Labs and the National Security Campus into the America Makes membership consortium — will be welcomed by many people. We will see what the future holds for new industry innovations, and how this partnership will change the face of nuclear power moving forward.
Discuss this story in the America Makes 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.