AMS Spring 2023

Biden’s AM Forward Signals that 3D Printing Is Ready for Prime Time

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Before the Biden administration announced AM Forward, the last time the president of the United States mentioned additive manufacturing was back in 2013. At the time, President Barack Obama said that 3D printing had “the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything” in his ‘State of the Union’ address. Back then I was newer in the industry, and working on launching a PolyJet 3D printer as a product marketer at a different company. As we found out, while a lot of demand was created due to higher awareness, it eventually faded away as most of the capabilities at the time were focused on prototyping. At the high-end, if solutions could meet the functionality requirements, they couldn’t hit the cost efficiency required for production use cases for cost-per-part versus traditional manufacturing. 

Fast forward almost a decade and now it’s different. I’m very fortunate to be part of an amazing team in the space, focused on delivering one of the most accessible industrial grade additive manufacturing solutions. I’ve witnessed how additive technology has changed the way modern manufacturers think about building end-use parts and managing supply chains. Today’s 3D printed parts can be relied on to solve critical high-value applications up and down the supply chain, and those of us in the additive industry are ready to help. 

With the right printers, materials and software, the parts created with today’s additive technology are strong, making it simple to build tooling, fixtures and end-use parts for even the most tightly regulated industries. The printers themselves are faster, reliable, and produce accurate, repeatable parts at the push of a button. Digitization of manufacturing has also opened up new ways to scale 3D printing with connected point-of-need manufacturing. Now, any factory or workshop can be a digital factory. All you need to do is upload a part file to the cloud and watch as parts materialize right where you need them. Instead of waiting for tooling, which can take weeks or months to procure with traditional methods, engineers can now print and validate a part in a day or less. No more waiting around for parts.

Real Applications, Real Results

Seeing the technology come together to solve larger-scale supply chain problems has been really rewarding. My team has made this happen for countless organizations: from the U.S. Air Force and Army, to wind energy companies and aircraft manufacturers. One really cool example that comes to mind is the Project DIAMOnD initiative that we executed with Automation Alley. Together, we created the world’s largest distributed manufacturing network. The local manufacturers of Michigan got access to on-site 3D printers at their own facilities to advance their industrial competitiveness and adoption of Industry 4.0 tech, in exchange for participating as critical suppliers manufacturing parts for emergency response efforts. We actually activated the network for the first time last month to print parts for tourniquet clips sent to the Ukrainian government. Without connected, distributed 3D printing, there’s no way to harness the production capacity of hundreds of manufacturers in a matter of days.

Collin Fisher 533rd Commodities Maintenance Squadron works with an F-16 wing assembly aircraft part. Image Credit: Hill Air Force Base.

Opportunities For Increased Adoption: Certification and Collaboration

As an industry, we have spent the last decade building our technology platforms to meet the specialized needs of modern supply chains and the parts they depend on. But we also understand that in order for additive to deeply penetrate manufacturing operations, it must be easy to integrate into existing workflows. A leading additive platform needs to be secure and include tools for part validation and certification. APIs are required to connect the data from additive systems with process management and supply chain tracking tools. And research and development in advanced composites, thermoplastics and metals give manufacturers access to the right material for even the most demanding applications.

Maintenance work on a C-130 at Hill Air Force Base. Image Credit: Hill Air Force Base.

One of the most important barriers to adoptions, and a fundamental pillar in Biden’s AM Forward initiative, is the creation of standards. This critical element is not going to be solved by any single industry player alone. As designed, the initiative will facilitate collaboration across many additive companies to drive the creation of standards in software, security and materials qualifications. I applaud this effort. We need to work together to establish standards for the bigger benefit of American manufacturers and consumers. We want to do our part bringing high-paying manufacturing jobs to America, bolstering our country’s industrial might, and reducing inflationary pressures on domestic consumers. Standards will help our industry achieve the scale it needs to solve these problems.

A ruggedized 3D printer deployed for military applications. Image courtesy of Markforged.

The Biden administration is taking the right steps to build resilient domestic supply chains while elevating manufacturing in the U.S. Better outcomes will be achieved across the board – not just for 3D printing companies, but for manufacturers of all sizes and the U.S. consumer.

In the meantime, we’re doing everything we can to also support the Bipartisan Innovation Act (BIA) — if we can come together and get it passed, adding a U.S. Supply Chain Office that invests in the capabilities of American manufacturers would be a monumental win for companies and consumers alike.

About the Author

Shai Terem has been President and CEO of Markforged and a member of its board of directors since October 2020, after having joined the company in December 2019. Prior to that, Mr. Terem served in various roles at Kornit Digital Ltd. and Stratasys; he also served in the Israeli Defense Forces.

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