3D Printing Central to White House’s New National Strategy on Advanced Manufacturing

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On Friday, October 9, 2022, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released the National Strategy for Advanced Manufacturing (NSAM). It is the second update to A National Strategic Plan for Advanced Manufacturing — released in February, 2012, under the Obama administration — following the Trump administration’s 2018 Strategy for American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing. The OSTP, part of the Executive Office of the President (EOP), is mandated by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010 to update the original document from 2012 every 5 years. Although of course not focused solely on additive manufacturing (AM), the latest update does seem particularly significant for the AM sector, given its specific quantities and qualities of growth since 2018.

As with the OSTP’s update earlier this year to the National Strategy for Critical and Emerging Technologies, the sector’s rapidly increasing legitimacy and attraction of investment dollars are both evident in the NSAM. Overall, the latter report probably gives the most comprehensively detailed summary yet, concerning the role that the US government envisions AM will play in the future of the nation’s manufacturing.

Multi-material printer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a frequent participant in government-funded advanced manufacturing projects. Image courtesy of ORNL

Just like the 2018 update, the NSAM revolves around three interrelated goals. The first, “(1) [d]evelop and implement advanced manufacturing technologies” is essentially identical to the first goal from 2018. The second, “(2) [g]row the advanced manufacturing workforce,” is fairly similar to the second goal from 2018. The main difference is that the updated report has placed a more detailed emphasis on the urgency of bringing new workers into the US’s manufacturing labor pool.

The greatest distinction between the two reports lies in the last goal, “(3) Build resilience into manufacturing supply chains.” Basically, this is a refinement of the 2018 report’s third goal: “Expand the capabilities of the domestic manufacturing supply chain.” Obviously, the updated version of the last goal reflects the updated version of the AM sector’s unwritten mission, insofar as it has been adapted to fit the needs of a global economy wholly reshaped by COVID, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, etc.

The fact that the third goal of the strategy has shifted in parallel to the AM sector’s own shifting strategy begins to suggest how central AM will be to the overall future of advanced manufacturing. This is reaffirmed in the strategy’s finer points. Although only one of the report’s subheadings includes the term “Additive Manufacturing,” the technology is directly mentioned over 20 times in the report outside of that subsection.

Moreover, as I also pointed out in the post about the critical and emerging technologies plan back in February, AM either overlaps with more or less every other area of the NSAM, in terms of areas like “Smart Manufacturing” and “Digital Transformation of Supply Chains”, or those categories are/include versions of AM, like nanoprinting and biomanufacturing.

US Army sergeant 3D printing a part in preparation for 2021’s Project Convergence war games. Image courtesy of DVIDS

Among all the other objectives, AM is clearly most relevant to “3.2: Expand Efforts to Reduce Manufacturing Supply Chain Vulnerabilities.” That objective includes recommendations such as “3.2.3: Improve Supply Chain Risk Management” and “3.2.4: Stimulate Supply Chain Agility.” In the appendix for 3.2.3, the report’s authors recommend, “Consider stress-testing supply chains against [low probability, high consequence] events.” Of course, this describes just about every one of the countless war game applications for AM that the military has tested over the past several years.

Interestingly, given the proliferation of military applications for AM, in its assessment of how far along the government’s various agencies are in their respective advanced manufacturing progress, the report’s authors conclude that the Department of Commerce (DOC) is the furthest along in meeting its goals. However, the Department of Defense (DoD) and National Science Foundation (NSF) are not far behind, and NASA and the Department of Energy (DOE) are close behind the DoD and NSF. According to the report’s authors, the Department of Education (ED), the Department of Human Health and Services (HHS), and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) are the furthest behind of all the agencies analyzed in advanced manufacturing.

The disparity between the various agencies concerning their progress in advanced manufacturing sheds light on the logic behind, and likely implications of, one of the administration’s highest priorities in the report: technology transfer, which the government has deemed a Cross-Agency Priority. Thus, it is not likely that the disparity between agencies will continue, but rather that collaborations between agencies — as observers of the AM sector are familiar with — will determine how the US government molds American manufacturing in its desired image. Along those lines, through further manifestations of the AM Forward initiative, which the report pronounces one of the advanced manufacturing strategy’s greatest success stories, the DoD and DOE will likely take the lead in funneling advanced manufacturing technologies to all the other agencies relevant to advanced manufacturing, and coordinating the creation and character of America’s future manufacturing labor pool.

In other words, expect that many of the US’s future workers will be funded by the government to learn how to produce infrastructure for energy projects according to the requirements of the US military, and how to make and operate the equipment at the nexus between tech and renewables. And, also, expect that a sizable portion of those people will enter all the other manufacturing sectors, and teach those sectors how to automate their production processes and supply chains. To sum up, then, given all of the considerations at hand, AM is uniquely significant among all other segments of advanced manufacturing in its potential to coordinate into one whole all of the loose bits and pieces that will be required to drive forward a new global manufacturing environment. Or, at the very least, the US government seems to believe that this is the case.

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