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NSF Awards $1 Million to ASTRO America to Expand 3D Printing in Florida

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded $1 million to the Applied Science & Technology Research Organization of America (ASTRO America) to accelerate the growth of the 3D printing ecosystem in Florida, through the NSF’s Regional Innovation Engines program. Nicknamed ‘NSF Engines’, the program is administered by the NSF’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships, established via the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022.

ASTRO America, a 501(c)(3) think tank established in 2018 and headquartered in Bethesda, MD, is one of over 40 organizations across the nation to be awarded a grant from the inaugural round of NSF Engines funding, which was first announced about a year ago. Significantly, the initiative for which ASTRO America received the grant — “Accelerating Additive Manufacturing [AM]” — will serve as a pilot program for deploying the Biden administration’s national AM Forward strategy on a state-level in Florida.

AM Forward, of course, is the voluntary industrial compact entered into in May 2022 by some of the nation’s largest defense contractors. Among other policy prescriptions, it delineates a comprehensive list of target numbers for the proportion of parts produced with AM by small and medium enterprise (SME) contract manufacturers in the US. To support the Florida pilot program, ASTRO America is also partnering with some of the state’s leading public universities, including the University of Florida and the Florida A&M University-Florida State University College of Engineering, as well as small manufacturers in the AM sector, such as Sintavia.

In a press release about ASTRO America’s receiving an NSF Engines grant, the president of ASTRO America, Neal Orringer, said, “This initiative will spur further innovation in 3D printing across [Florida]. It will also support job creation, and grow a new generation of engineers and technicians. …We look forward to working with the state and other stakeholders to build a regional innovation engine.”

The director of the NSF, Sethuraman Panchanathan, explained, “These NSF Engines Development Awards lay the foundation for emerging hubs of innovation and potential future NSF Engines. …[The awardees] will build robust regional partnerships rooted in scientific and technological innovation in every part of our nation. Through these planning awards, NSF is seeding the future for in-place innovation in communities and to grow their regional economies through research and partnership.”

ASTRO America president Neal Orringer with President Biden, at the launch of AM Forward

As the director of the NSF alludes to, perhaps the most exciting aspect of the present round of grants is that all the awardees are now contenders to become fully-fledged NSF Engines. In a matter of a few years, that could lead to up to $160 million in funding for ASTRO America.

For insight into how ASTRO America is planning to utilize its grant money, it is perhaps useful to turn to an article written last month by Neal Orringer for 3DPrint, titled “Additive Manufacturing in Guam — A Path to Economic Diversity for the Island.” In the article, Orringer describes how ASTRO America worked with the Guam Economic Development Authority (GEDA) to complete a Phase 1 study gauging “the feasibility of a local [AM] industrial base on Guam”.

Having determined that Guam qualifies as a viable candidate to create an AM base, ASTRO America has now started work on a Phase 2 study. This will entail practical implementation of some of the major objectives set forth in Phase 1, including the creation of a business incubator for shared R&D infrastructure, and a focus on boosting local workforce development.

Since Florida already has all the right elements in place to facilitate the construction of a local AM ecosystem, ASTRO America’s grant will likely go towards a project in Florida that resembles Phase 2 for Guam. Along those lines, I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago that Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc., and Sintavia — one of ASTRO America’s partners on the present project — had been awarded a contract to build an AM facility in Florida for the US Navy’s nuclear submarine program. Such a facility would certainly come in handy for the work on NSF Engines.

Finally, this is only the latest in a number of stories related to the acceleration of advanced manufacturing clusters, a goal which has jumped to the top of the priority list for the world’s most powerful nations. Especially noteworthy in this context is the overlap between AM Forward and the CHIPS Act: a theme that seems poised to become more and more significant over the next couple of years.

Images courtesy of ASTRO America

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