MMX 2022: Celebrating 10 Years of America Makes & 3D Printing in Ohio


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America Makes is the United States’ leading public-private partnership for additive manufacturing (AM) technology and education, working to not only accelerate adoption of the technology in the country, but also to increase our manufacturing competitiveness through training, standards publication, projects, and more. The organization, which was the first of the Manufacturing USA Advanced Manufacturing Institutes, opened its doors in Youngstown, Ohio in 2012, and was on hand to celebrate its fifth birthday in 2017. So, of course, I made the nearly four-hour drive from my home in Dayton to help celebrate its 10th anniversary at MMX 2022, the Members Meeting and Exchange event for the more than 230 members of America Makes.

Touring the Youngstown Business Incubator

The event kicked off with a local Additive Manufacturing Community Day at America Makes and its ecosystem partner, the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI). This part of Ohio was once known as the Rust Belt, but has since come to be called the Tech Belt, as more advanced manufacturing companies open shop there. Tours were given of YBI’s Tech Block Building 5 (TBB5), which offers space for early stage companies and their advanced manufacturing equipment. JuggerBot 3D, Fitz Frames, and Tailored Alloys are just some of the companies located in TBB5, which is across the parking lot from America Makes.

“Our mission is to facilitate the creation of high-value businesses through collaborative partnerships that promote innovative technologies and long-term, sustainable employment opportunities, with a focus on information technology and advanced manufacturing,” YBI’s website states.

I spent some time checking out the Front Door to Additive exhibit at the America Makes facility, which used to be a furniture warehouse and connects via a walkway—once used to move furniture—to YBI. Last year, America Makes completed a renovation to create the exhibit space, where visitors can learn about the history of the national accelerator, as well as its current projects, and all about 3D printing, as well.

At the outdoor party after the America Makes open house, we enjoyed food, drinks, and plenty of time to network before a small group of speakers came to the podium to share their thoughts on the momentous occasion. John Wilczynski, the Executive Director of America Makes, kicked things off by welcoming several people to the microphone who have helped build the America Makes community, including Barb Ewing, the CEO of YBI; Guy Coviello, the President and CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber; Steven Fritsch, Vice President – Industry Advancement and Engagement for Team NEO; a representative from JobsOhio; former Ohio State football coach Jim Tressel, who is currently the President of Youngstown State University; and Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.

“Call me a partner. Call me an ally. You can better believe I’ll do everything that I can to make sure that whatever America Makes needs, whatever the university and this collaborative environment needs, you’ll be able to count on me to do the best that we can to make that happen,” Representative Johnson said.

MMX Begins

The next day at the actual start of MMX, Wilczynski kicked things off with an America Makes State of the Union address. A couple of the announcements he made were new partnerships with the Additive Manufacturing Coalition and AMT to enhance the ecosystem, and that America Makes is actively working to evolve its Data Sharing Platform.

America Makes and the DoD

The first speaker of the day was Dr. Kevin Geiss, Director of Science & Technology Futures with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), who explained that AM was very important to the Department of Defense (DoD), and that America Makes helps advance DoD strategy.

He explained that, last year, Heidi Shyu, Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, laid out 14 “critical and emerging technology areas,” with each area consisting of three categories: seed (nascent), like biotechnology; adoption, like microelectronics; and military-specific, such as hypersonics, which are vital to the national security strategy. Dr. Geiss says the DoD believes that additive manufacturing can address all 14 of these areas.

“What you are engaged in with America Makes here underpins all those core areas,” he reiterated.

Dr. Geiss said there are several ways the DoD sees AM providing new capabilities, and changing the nature of how things are done. This includes modernizing weapon systems, increasing readiness, and enhancing the capabilities of the warfighter, which can all be helped by the technology’s ability to create geometries that subtractive methods cannot. Additionally, AM is helping to “bring more people to the table to innovate” and solve these problems, as 3D printing allows engineers to fabricate ideas more quickly, and the information can be easily shared. The “nature of additive” can also decrease costs and equipment downtime in order to support more agile logistics.

“One of the department’s greatest strengths is the American warfighter, and additive manufacturing helps do the job better,” Dr. Geiss said, citing the example of a tank cap replacement part that was 3D printed at 5% of the original cost. “This improves our readiness.”

He stated that America Makes has been a great partner to the DoD, and that the department would not be “in a place to publish some of the documents we have the last few years,” such as the strategy that lays out the department’s additive vision, without the institute’s initial roadmap work. This strategy, which illustrates that the DoD is “leaning forward from a policy perspective” to find ways to implement these tools, lays out five goals: integrating additive manufacturing into the DoD, advancing agile use, learning, securing the AM workflow, and aligning additive activities across the department.

“America Makes has been a vital partner in implementing our strategy within the department,” Dr. Geiss concluded.

He noted that the DoD will continue its commitment to the institute through the ManTech program, and that America Makes will be a focus of the department in terms of President Biden’s AM Forward initiative.

America Makes Features Kevin Czinger

Next to take the MMX stage was Ohio native Kevin Czinger, Lead Inventor and CEO of Los Angeles-based Divergent and Czinger Vehicles, with his talk, “Everything Had To Be Invented… Everything. Building The World’s First Antifragile Industrial Base.” He first explained that the quote about inventing everything was by Lockheed Martin Skunkworks founder Kelly Johnson, one of his idols and the engineer who led the development of the SR-71 Blackbird.

Czinger began by saying that issues such as long supply chains and outsourcing outside of the country are “crippling,” and that Divergent is working to create an end-to-end digital manufacturing system for the future. He explained the concept of antifragile production and antifragility, which is a property of systems that, when faced with shocks, stressors, attacks, or failures, increase in their capability to thrive, and adapt quickly to beat other systems. Antifragility is what enables product designers to quickly iterate products with little capital investment, and localized factories to iterate so their communities keep permanent manufacturing footprints. Czinger said that as an industry, we need to build resilient, antifragile systems.

“The bigger the challenges, the bigger the shop, the more learning you have, the stronger the system becomes,” he explained.

Divergent is building a global network of digital manufacturing hubs that will enable a Factory-as-a-Service (FAAS) business model to drive sustainable manufacturing and product innovation for multiple industries. The company’s industrial-scale Divergent Adaptive Production System, or DAPS, will work to automate and digitalize all manufacturing elements within a modular, scalable system. The DAPS process begins by inputting digital vehicle requirements, and then using AI-enabled generative design to create the automobile. Then, it’s printed with Divergent’s own materials and goes through post-processing before V-Cell assembly.

KUKA robots used in DAPS located at the Divergent 3D factory. Image courtesy of Marc Weisberg.

Czinger provided an example of the kind of fast iteration Divergent can offer using its generative design optimization. When the company took the Czinger 21C hypercar to track, data showed that a wider body was needed, and within three months, the car was off the track, updated, and back again.

“This is the cycle we need to aim for,” Czinger told the crowd. “But how do you do this, with printing expensive and too slow? I say be prepared to invent everything.”

He explained that because people care about the total blended system cost, the solution needs to be designed as a total system, which can’t be done using a commercial printer.

“In 2017, I designed a spec specifically for a printer that would fit into our overall system, and this 12-laser system, developed with a joint partner, has been running for a few years, and at 15-30 times the speed,” Czinge said. “Unless you have a full digital system, you don’t have a system.”

Czinger explained that Divergent’s digital system can achieve “aerospace accuracy at true automotive values,” and enables true fixtureless assembly of multi-component, multi-material structures, with “zero switchover time” for the universal assembly system to create different projects. Divergent develops and uses all its own materials, and builds everything for its vehicles from suspension and chassis to single part components, like brake nodes. Czinger said that using its system, the company was able to reduce the part count for this component by 80%, which results in a major efficiency gain, a smaller supply chain, and quicker design testing validation cycle.

A look at an exploded view of the 21C reveals how radically different every component looks from traditionally made counterparts. Image courtesy of Czinger Vehicles.

As for the future of Divergent and its DAPS antifragility solution, Czinger said that the company is actively working with more than five leading OEMs, including Aston Martin. While its vehicle structures are currently built in Los Angeles, production will be heading to Europe in the near future.

“Our end goal is to create these types of regionalized factories, multi-industry and multi-company, around the world,” Czinger concluded.

Look for Part Two

Because the event was so jam-packed with important speakers and panels, I’ve covered MMX in multiple articles. Stay tuned for the next part in this series, in which I cover such guests as Dr. Susan Helper, a professor at Case Western Reserve University and the Senior Economist on the White House Council of Economic Advisors.

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