ASTRO America Hosts First 3D Printing Workshop to Launch AM Forward Florida

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Last weekend, the Applied Science & Technology Research Organization (ASTRO) America, a 501(c)(3) think tank, held a two-day additive manufacturing (AM) workshop at Florida State University’s (FSU’s) Panama City campus, in northwest Florida. In addition to its providing an opportunity for workforce training, the event also served to help launch AM Forward Florida (AMF-FL), a pilot program for the Biden administration’s AM Forward initiative.

Announced by President Biden in May 2022, AM Forward is a voluntary compact between seven of the US’s largest manufacturers aiming to accelerate the standardization of AM for the US domestic economy. In May 2023, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded ASTRO America $1 million via the NSF Regional Innovation Engines (NSF Engines) program. That funding facilitated both the workshop as well as the pilot program, as a whole.

FSU is one of five Florida universities that ASTRO is working with for AMF-FL. ASTRO is planning at least two more workshops in collaboration with its academic partners.

ASTRO America president Neal Orringer at the Pentagon

In a press release about ASTRO America’s launch of AMF-FL with its FSU workshop, the president of ASTRO America, Neal Orringer, said, “Our focus was on how to fill up a 3D printing or [AM] ecosystem to support the growth of aerospace, defense and 3D printing. The Panhandle in Panama City was an excellent place to begin to develop this kind of ecosystem all across Northern Florida. We believe that Florida has the right building blocks to do this kind of development.”

Farrukh Alvi, the associate provost for innovation, research & entrepreneurship at FSU, said, “The workshop was to identify what the opportunities are in North Florida. We want to attract more resources to the region. We wanted to bring together all of the stakeholders and identify all of their challenges, needs, and start coming up with a concrete plan to address these things.”

According to the agenda for the event on ASTRO America’s website, the workshop included a keynote address by Rich Perlman, senior director of Innoveering, a company focus on hypersonic R&D that was acquired by GE Aerospace. Instruction sessions included topics such as “Use Inspired Research and Translation of Innovation to Production”, and “Market and Supply Chain Requirements”.

The next two workshops are scheduled for November 17, 2023, co-hosted with the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and January 25-26, 2024, co-hosted with the Florida International University in Miami.

Following the initial fanfare of AM Forward when it was originally launched, participants in the initiative have been fairly quiet about its subsequent developments. However, there is reason to believe that this could change soon, and that when it does, the change will happen quickly. Insofar as it’s necessarily dependent on federal government action, establishing the parameters of the compact in the first place was, in many ways, the hard part. The follow-on activity may be taking some time to get going, but the authority that permits it to proceed forward at all is the important thing to keep in mind.

Moreover, ASTRO America is at least one easily trackable example of AM Forward’s progress. Once it has been demonstrated to be successful, an in-development pilot program by definition should lead to expanded activity in the next phase. Additionally, it was only a couple of months ago that ASTRO America, along with representatives from AM Forward members GE and Lockheed, met with the head of the US Small Business Administration (SBA) and Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks at the Pentagon to discuss an AM Forward-centered Small Business Investment Fund (SBIF).

Given that you can set your watch to the government funding cycle, if AM Forward was launched in May 2022, and ASTRO America received NSF Engines funding in May 2023, further action can be reasonably anticipated by May 2024. The slow and steady buildup is the real battle when it comes to the arena of large public-private partnerships. The objective is to move things along at first as carefully as possible, so that the programs can more or less run on autopilot once the foundation has been laid.

Images courtesy of ASTRO America

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