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Boeing & Northrop Grumman Join Biden’s AM Forward 3D Printing Initiative

This past May, the Biden administration launched the AM Forward program, an initiative designed to stimulate growth in the US additive manufacturing (AM) sector. Along with the companies involved, the administration is partnering on the project with the non-profit Applied Science & Technology Research Organization (ASTRO).

AM Forward kicked off with five initial major corporate participants — all giants in a variety of heavy industrial sectors, especially defense: GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Siemens Energy. Now, two other, similar conglomerates, Boeing and Northrop Grumman, have both announced that they will be joining AM Forward.

Image courtesy of Northrop Grumman

In a press release, Sue Helper, senior advisor for industrial strategy at the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), commented, “…one of the best ways to [lower prices] is to make more things in America, with more secure and more resilient supply chains. AM Forward focuses on [AM] to help us achieve these goals.” The corporate VP of global operations at Northrop Grumman, Matt Bromberg, explained, “…the competitiveness of the U.S. defense industrial base relies on the capability of thousands of small to medium size manufacturers (SMM) producing and post-processing critical aerospace parts.”

The nuts and bolts of AM Forward are, firstly, directives issued to a variety of executive branch agencies, especially those related to companies fitting the SMM description. Secondly, there are specific voluntary guidelines committed to by the corporate participants involved.

GE9X Engine, featuring 3D printed parts, on a Boeing 777X. Image courtesy of GE Aviation

For instance, among other things, Boeing has made a commitment to increase the AM production capacity of its qualified SMM suppliers by as much as 30 percent. As for Northrop Grumman, it will aim for 50 percent of the AM-related, request for quote (RFQ) packages it sends out to be made by U.S.-based SMM’s. These numbers are more or less similar to those agreed to by the five initial corporate participants. It still appears to be unclear whether or not loose deadlines have been set, for the companies to meet their targets.

The gradual materialization of AM Forward offers valuable insight into the role of the US executive branch in shaping American policy. It’s important to keep in mind that, as yet, the initiative hasn’t entailed the procurement of any special funding, or enactment of new legislation. The participating corporations aren’t legally required to do anything. Instead, as mentioned above, it is wholly voluntary, and amounts to a set of goals that have been publicly announced by the aerospace/defense sector.

Along those lines, the makeup of the companies involved in AM Forward encapsulates the too-often-overlooked fact that — especially in the US — there is hardly an aerospace sector separate from the defense sector. Moreover, this aerospace/defense sector is itself more or less inseparable from the US military, which is in turn inseparable from the US executive branch, etc. Therefore, a voluntary compact among a handful of companies could be enough to start to change the US’s entire manufacturing base: because that compact is issuing from precisely this handful of companies. More than any other single factor, that’s what’s so significant about the role of aerospace/defense in the rise of AM.

AM Forward, then, is something like a commercial advocating 3D printingk, signaling to the suppliers of America’s leading bomb-droppers that they should start printing more of the components that help as many bombs be dropped as possible. Anyone who would prefer that AM be used primarily for other things, should start thinking about ways the technology can be used to advocate for demilitarization of the economy.