AMS Spring 2023

NIST Awards Ohio 3D Printing Service $800K for Distributed AM in National Emergencies

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IC3D, an Ohio-based original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and 3D printing services company, recently announced that the company had received an $800,000 Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The NIST, an agency within the Department of Commerce (DOC), was formed in 1901, and was known as the National Bureau of Standards until 1988.

The grant, titled “Regionalized Quality Control Centers for Mobilization of Distributed Additive Manufacturing [AM]”, was awarded to IC3D for the company’s proposal to start a pilot program for regional centers for 3D printed parts qualification. IC3D will use the money to open the first such center, in Columbus, OH.

IC3D’s Virago 700 3D Printer. Image courtesy of IC3D

In a press release about the grant, Michael Cao, CEO of IC3D Inc., explained, “One of the biggest industry challenges to adopting 3D printed end use parts is qualification. Qualifying parts requires standard processes, complex equipment and deep expertise. We’re excited to create a new approach for the industry to rapidly qualify parts in emergency situations.”

Image courtesy of National Institute of Health

As the CEO points out, the success of the company’s proposal is in large part due to IC3D’s experience in 2020, providing 3D printed face shields as a participant in the America Makes Advanced Manufacturing Crisis Production Response (AMCPR) program. America Makes, of course, is the Youngstown, OH-based, public-private partnership for AM education, and especially, AM vocational training.

According to IC3D, the company realized the crucial role that could be played during a national emergency by the type of qualification center it will be attempting to put into place with the SBIR grant. By centralizing into regional hubs the parts qualification process for personal protective equipment (PPE) — as well as, eventually, all other emergency supplies that have the potential to be printed — the regulatory phase could be streamlined and sped up, in turn fast-tracking the subsequent processes of manufacture and distribution.

$800,000 may seem relatively insignificant, given that it has become routine for the federal government to throw around tens of millions of dollars at a time for advanced manufacturing projects nowadays. However, if the pilot program proves to be successful once IC3D gets it up-and-running, the company not only will have established its own niche in the US AM ecosystem, but will have indeed helped solidify the emergence of an entirely new market segment within that ecosystem.

To elaborate, the objective of this project is so closely linked with the Biden administration’s sector-wide objectives for AM, that if IC3D succeeds, the company will have contributed to rapidly accelerating a development that necessarily goes far beyond the scope of one company. If the US government’s goals for utilizing advanced manufacturing as a comprehensive economic resilience solution pan out, the need for emergency qualification of new production methods will affect virtually every company involved in the AM sector, not to mention the rest of the advanced manufacturing scene. Therefore, as IC3D’s proposal implies, there will need to be a qualification center for every regional hub, creating an opportunity for service bureaus across the country.

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