AMS Spring 2023

Penn State’s OriginLabs Receives $1.5M in Funding for 3D Printers and More

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OriginLabs, a new prototyping and R&D facility that is part of the Eric J. Barron Innovation Hub at Pennsylvania State University (PSU), recently received a $1.5 million grant for new advanced manufacturing hardware. This includes $750,087 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), matched 1:1 by PSU. According to a university press release, in addition to robotic arms and laser scanning equipment, the funds will go to “various 3D printing technologies”.

Eric J. Barron Innovation Hub

ARC Brings POWER to the Appalachian Economy

ARC is a federal-state partnership established by the U.S. Congress in 1965, primarily to “modernize” the Appalachian economy. The ARC funding that OriginLabs received is part of $47 million that ARC recently released through its Partnership for Opportunity and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) Initiative, which the organization launched in 2015. According to ARC, this year’s POWER grant package is its largest one ever.

Spanning 52 projects across 181 counties in coal country, the POWER grants in 2022 almost universally support investment in advanced manufacturing and/or the infrastructure required to establish advanced manufacturing ecosystems, such as increased broadband capacity for rural areas. Thus, although purely federal grants tend to command the most attention if only because they typically come with the biggest price tags, it is important for businesses to remember to always be on the lookout for more localized funding opportunities.

University AM Partnerships

That is the case not solely due to the potential to receive grants, but also — and just as significantly — the ability to attract talent. What PSU has done by investing in the Innovation Hub is the smartest thing that an American university could be doing at this point. The U.S. desperately needs more institutions like this, especially given the number of business ideas with real longevity in the AM sector that are started at universities and similar research institutions all over the world.

It is about much more than new equipment: in the university press release about the ARC funds, OriginLabs’ director, Ryan Mandell, commented, “We will connect with regional workforce development boards, chambers of commerce, regional manufacturers, our local student population, and our research faculty to drive attendance in our short-form, hands-on, technical training sessions on advanced manufacturing processes, led by research and industry professionals.”

Finally, the geography matters, too. While it is true that coal needs to go, this is only doable, politically and socioeconomically, if new energy-employment supply chains are put in its place. It is not enough to simply say that “former coal workers will find a place in the new economy”, etc.. There has to be a direct and realistic pipeline that exists to support that reality. It seems increasingly clear for a variety of reasons, not least of which involve the technology’s amenability to production of renewable energy infrastructure, that AM is currently the most practical field to absorb the workers who would’ve otherwise entered industries that should be/are becoming obsolete.

Images courtesy of PSU

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