Biden Admin Launches U.S. 3D Printing Program: AM Forward

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A decade after his predecessor, Barack Obama, launched what would become America Makes, the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has launched the AM Forward program, meant to further spur the growth of the additive manufacturing (AM) in the country. The program will see the U.S. government and giant multinationals support 3D printing initiatives, small-and-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in various ways.

Supported by the non-profit Applied Science & Technology Research Organization (ASTRO), the federal government is working with initial AM Forward participants GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Siemens Energy to drive AM in the country in various ways. On the public side, the Biden Administration has selected a number of federal programs that can be used to support the adoption of 3D printing by SME manufacturers. These include:

  • Financing to small manufacturers to install 3D printing equipment at a more accessible cost:
    • The U.S. Department of Agriculture will allow rural manufacturers to access its Business and Industry program to acquire AM machines and train their workforce.
    • The Export-Import Bank will showcase its domestic lending program as a means for SMEs to upgrade their equipment.
    • The Small Business Administration will collaborate with AM Forward participants to ensure that its 504 Loan Program and Small Business Investment Company (SBIC) program will enable the adoption of AM across the country.
  • Technical assistance to SME manufacturers:
    • The U.S. Department of Energy will allow its Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to be used by SME manufacturers to test new 3D printing processes.
    • The Manufacturing Extension Partnership will allocate technical assistance
    • The Department of Defense (DOD) will offer its Mentor Protégé Program to large OEMs in AM Forward to provide technical assistance to their small U.S. suppliers that are “owned and controlled by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals.”
    • The DOD’s Manufacturing Technology Program Office will collaborate with America Makes and participants in AM Forward to launch a pilot standardization project.
  • Building the 3D printing workforce:
    • America Makes will create a curriculum for workforce training with AM Forward participants
    • The U.S. Department of Labor will establish apprenticeship programs for 3D printing
  • Setting industry standards:
    • The U.S. Department of Commerce – via the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) – will perform measurement science research dedicated to spreading the adoption of metal 3D printing, create the technical basis for new high-priority standards, and distribute these results to AM Forward participants via ASTM International, International Organization for Standardization (ISO), American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and other standards related organizations.

The initial members of AM Forward are also executing their strategies for increasing AM adoption in the country. They are as follows:

  • GE Aviation will aim to have SME suppliers compete on 50 percent of its request for quotes (RFQs) for items to be made with 3D printing or related technologies. 30 percent of its total external sourcing of 3D printed parts will be sourced from U.S. SME suppliers.
  • Similarly, Raytheon aims to have more than 50% of its RFQs for 3D printed products fulfilled by SMEs. It also plans to simplify and speed up procurement for 3D printed parts.
  • Siemens Energy will attempt to fulfill 20-40% of its outside AM components and services from U.S. suppliers and partners. It will work with 10-20 U.S. SMEs to build up their AM capabilities. 10-20 SMEs will also be trained on inspection and post-processing best practices.
  • Lockheed Martin and SMEs will research the performance of AM as compared to casting and forging. It will also work with universities and technical colleges to advance 3D printing workforce development, featuring coursework and apprenticeship.
  • Honeywell will additionally choose U.S. SME’s for RFQs related to AM, including products, equipment, tooling, and process development. To its SME suppliers, the company will provide technical assistance for “part design, data generation, machine operation, post-processing, part inspection / quality management.”

The goal of these programs is to achieve more resilient supply chains, while also growing new industries and reshoring production in the country. All of this is meant to be complemented by the Bipartisan Innovation Act (BIA), which creates a Supply Chain Office at the Department of Commerce, as well as aids the development of advanced manufacturing, and invests in regional tech hubs. It also enhances the funding for Manufacturing USA Institutes and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.

In this way, the Biden Administration takes over where Obama left off, spurred in large part by the supply chain crises that have emerged as of late. The administration also suggests that this will also reduce costs for U.S. families. For all of these reasons, Biden is urging Congress to pass the BIA.

Like the Manufacturing USA Institutes established before AM Forward, we obviously see a great deal of participation from military contractors. Steered by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing & Machining, America Makes has steadily seen aerospace and military contractors, as well as other businesses, develop AM over the past decade. The military focus of the organization has, in some ways, seen these verticals developed at the expense of other 3D printing applications.

A rendering of a future hypersonics facility. Image courtesy of ASTROA.

In this way, the AM Forward program may not be all that different. In addition to this 3D printing initiative, ASTROA is involved in the development of hypersonic weapons with the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. it is also working with the U.S. Army to 3D print large metal hulls for military vehicles. ASTROA President Neal Orringer led Manufacturing Technology and Defense Production programs at the Pentagon, while Executive Director Jason Gorey previously served as executive secretary for the Defense Production Act Committee and worked in human intelligence at the Defense Intelligence Agency. The rest of the group’s leadership is also closely linked to U.S. military.

However, the COVID pandemic has driven more investment into medical 3D printing. This in turn drew more attention to the technology, with the last two years resulting in tremendous growth for AM. At the moment, according to SmarTech Analysis, the sector is worth $10.6 billion. Now, Biden has officially offer material support for the sector, which will aid in the expansion of the sector to the $50 billion in revenues to be reached by 2030, as projected by SmarTech.

Feature image courtesy of Gage Skidmore.

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