Biden’s Plan for National Semiconductor Technology Center is a Treasure Trove of 3D Printing Opportunities


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Whether the Biden administration’s CHIPS Act will truly succeed at transforming American manufacturing is a question that can only be answered years from now. Nevertheless, it is already clear that this is exactly what the set of policies aims to accomplish.

This is most strikingly spelled out in “A Vision and Strategy for the National Semiconductor Technology Center”, the latest addition to the constantly growing library of government documents on CHIPS. Just as striking, if one reads between the lines, is the virtually limitless potential that the CHIPS era will open up for the additive manufacturing (AM) sector, in particular.

Despite all the excitement surrounding tax breaks, funding grants, and other subsidies, the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) is clearly the cornerstone of the CHIPS Act. The idea of the NSTC itself isn’t so revolutionary. As the NSTC blueprint points out, other similar institutions already exist around the world, with the Taiwan Semiconductor Research Institute (TSRI) being probably the most notable.

Image courtesy of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

What is transformational about the NSTC is that it will be coming into existence at a time when there’s more eyes than ever on the semiconductor industry, on supply chain management, and on the reshoring of American manufacturing — the trifecta of issues that the $11 billion institution is being established to address. The NSTC is the nucleus around which all of the other changes to the US industrial base will be expected to coalesce.

As the NSTC blueprint puts it, “It is hard to imagine a sector more important to the national and economic security of our nation than the semiconductor industry. Nearly every innovation of the future, whether for smarter transportation or better medical devices, for agricultural efficiencies or to address climate risks, or for the technology that powers our national defense capabilities, will depend on semiconductor technology… The [NSTC] will serve as the focal point for research and engineering throughout the semiconductor ecosystem, advancing and enabling disruptive innovation to provide US leadership in the industries of the future. …By the decade’s end, the NSTC should be viewed throughout the world as an essential resource within the broad semiconductor ecosystem with a network of respected scientists and engineers, state-of-the-art facilities, effective programs, and demonstrated technical achievements.”

In the same way as the NSTC embodies the central organizing principle of the CHIPS Act, the central organizing principle of the NSTC is a comprehensive push for accelerating the nation’s rapid prototyping efforts. If this sounds like an overstatement, then you need to read the document, even if you just search the text for “prototyping” and read one or some of the 15 portions where that word appears.

3D printed semiconductor packaging, courtesy of Manufacturing USA institute, NextFlex

For instance, one of the document’s stated goals is to, “Establish and provide access to physical assets such as end-to-end prototyping and other facilities and equipment with capital costs that otherwise make access difficult, or which are not available in the U.S. today.” In another section concerning the DOD Microelectronics Commons, a similar CHIPS-related program that will work side-by-side with NTSC, the blueprint explains, “…at-scale prototyping is high- risk and expensive. Small and mid-size companies and universities have great difficulty bridging that laboratory to fabrication or ‘lab-to-fab’ transition between research ideas and realization of those ideas into manufacturing. …The Commons will leverage non-traditional defense innovators (e.g., startups and universities) and lower some of the existing barriers that hinder their ability to evolve laboratory prototypes to fabrication prototypes.” (Emphasis my own)

Image courtesy of NIST

The “lower[ing of] some of the existing barriers”, in this context, will likely mean subsidies for rapid prototyping equipment, i.e., 3D printers. And although the Commons and the NTSC are separate institutions, at the same time, they are also being designed to work together, as well as with all of the other elements making up what the blueprint curiously refers to as the “semiconductor community”.

The document also emphasizes the need to create “a common language” for the semiconductor industry, so it can be assumed that fundamental features such as lowering the barriers of entry for rapid prototyping equipment will be consistent across all institutions making up the US semiconductor industry. Those also include all of the Manufacturing USA institutes devoted to semiconductor manufacturing, with the blueprint pointing out, too, that the CHIPS Act provides funds for the creation of three more Manufacturing USA institutes specifically devoted to semiconductor manufacturing.

All of those institutes have AM as one of if not their main area of competency, so that is yet further evidence supporting the idea that the CHIPS Act is inherently just as much about how things are made, as it is about the goods being produced. This is not to mention the National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP), which would require another article to break down. In any case, regardless of politics, it’s hard to see how anyone in the 3D printing industry doesn’t want four more years of Joe Biden.

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