Organizing an Industry: AM Coalition’s Mark Burnham on Lobbying in 3D Printing

Share this Article

As Michael Molitch-Hou described in his recap of Additive Manufacturing Strategies (AMS) 2024, one of the biggest recurring themes of the conference was collaboration. When an industry based on cutting-edge technologies matures and the leaders of that industry become focused on scaling to the next phase, it is almost inevitable that lobbying efforts will be one of the biggest sources of interfirm collaboration.

This is just beginning for the 3D printing industry, and there is reason to think the sector — especially in the US — is on the verge of a significant increase in these types of activities. There are already vehicles in existence that could facilitate that, including Washington, DC-based Additive Manufacturing (AM) Coalition. I talked to the AM Coalition’s Director of Policy, Mark Burnham, at AMS, to get his take on how the industry as a whole can work together with the group to help AM gain traction as a national policy priority.

One issue I was interested in getting Burnham’s perspective on was the Research & Experimentation (R&E) Expenditure, which the US House of Representatives recently voted to restore as part of the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act of 2024. There is, however, no guarantee that the bill will make it through the US Senate in its current form.

“We’ve been following the 2017 change to the R&D tax credit since our inception,” Burnham said about AM Coalition, which began operating in early 2021. “Of course, when we did our inaugural DC legislative fly-in last May, it was absolutely one of the things that our folks were talking about. First of all, it is important to note the whole problem goes away in 2025, when  the current provision  expires. So, it’s the focus is about having to fix that bridge, and the House has passed a version of a tax bill that includes an R&D tax credit fix which is retroactive to 2022.

“I think everybody seems to support the R&D tax fix, but the challenge is what does it get packaged with? In the House, they didn’t include the SALT [state and local tax] pieces, which are annual $10,000 caps on individual tax payers put into place by the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act. There’s a fight surrounding whether or not to lift those caps, so one of the questions is, will the Senate try to put those back in?”

Beyond the arguments about the nuances of the bill itself, though, Burnham said that the difficulties simply lie in the sheer number of things the Senate is currently trying to focus on at once:

“The bigger challenge is, we’re already in tax season, and there’s not a lot of oxygen on the Senate floor. We’ve got twelve appropriation bills to finish. We’re having a big fight about the defense supplemental for Ukraine and Israel, and whether or not there’s going to be a border deal. And then the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Mayorkas. The realities are that I think there’s interest, I think there’s willingness, but it’s still unclear whether the Senate will pass the same version as the House, which means it would then have to go back to the House.

“What we would say to folks, then, is we want to get this done, and with the limitations on the time available on the Senate floor and the uncertainty of the House reconsidering the tax package, we would ask our members to contact their senators and say, ‘Finish the bill. Pass the current version and do not send it back to the House ’ While there are a lot of other things I’d love to see in there, it’s just like any other situation where compromise is the key. You don’t get everything you want, but you take the good things and then you focus on moving forward.”

This is precisely the sort of tenuous dynamic, always seemingly at the center of anything involving government, which makes it so useful to have an asset like the AM Coalition on the scene, directly advocating for issues that members of Congress might otherwise never pay attention to. Or, even if they are paying attention, the relevance of AM to the issue at-hand is likely just not on their agenda.

“One of the things we do a lot of is educational forums,” Burnham explained. “The biggest challenge with members of Congress isn’t that different from the challenge with the general public: they know part of AM, they know the hobbyist scale of it, and some prototyping. But they typically have no idea that it’s happening at an industrial scale, right in their own home state. And, so, there’s a whole system of manufacturing companies out there that are not even on these legislators’ radars. That’s what we’ve been trying to help them get a better handle on. Part of that involves explaining how AM can play a role in dealing with the obvious disruptions to supply chains, especially because the US has lost so much capacity internally for traditional manufacturing.

“In that vein, we’re really excited about the Department of Defense coming out with the National Defense Industrial Strategy [NDIS], because it’s something that’s never existed before. What we have to work on is making sure  it get implemented. As an organization, AM Coalition wants to be fully engaged in making sure Congress gets behind it, and to do that they have to help them understand why it matters.”

In the context of industrial policy in the US, that sort of advocacy work is more important now than perhaps at any other time in recent memory. The same factors that, over the course of decades, led to a diminished American domestic industrial base — including a severely shrunken manufacturing labor force — has also led to a generational knowledge gap concerning the relationship between government manufacturing policy and the private sector.

“I think the issue with the concept of industrial policy is it became something of a dirty word,” Burnham asserted. “And it became a dirty word in part because you had folks looking at the government, saying, ‘When you pick winners and losers you make mistakes, so let the market do it.’ And there are a lot of free market advocates who genuinely feel that we’re better off letting the market figure it out, and generally that is right.  However, we also have to take into account the overall impact of that policy on the ability of the U.S. to sustain its economy and national defense.”

“The problem is that we’re competing against countries that have quite explicit industrial policy, and they’re absolutely dumping substantial amounts of money into backing it up. In the US, meanwhile, we now have some single points of failure in our industrial base, and then more broadly, we’ve lost a whole generation of folks going into manufacturing. I’ve actually talked to state officials in other states who have told me, we’re not investing in training for manufacturing because it’s a dying industry in the US. But it can’t be. All of this comprises the background that informed the need for the NDIS. You’ve seen efforts from different administrations to do some of it, even if they’ve kind of shied away from calling it industrial policy because it gets caught up in arguments that somehow having policies about supporting our industrial base somehow results in government control of the economy.  In actuality we are talking about using smart policies to encourage and support private industry. The reality is we’re competing against China and European countries who have stated industrial policies, about how they’re going to move technology into the actual marketplace. And we’ve been sort of saying, ‘Figure it out on your own when the DOD has a culture of risk avoidance and limited access for any producer other than the primes.’ That’s really hard for small-and-medium-sized businesses: a lot harder than people think it is.”

Ensuring that Congress prioritizes the needs of domestic small and medium manufacturers is perhaps the main reason why AM Coalition holds its second annual fly-in event in Washington, DC  May 8th-10th, 2024.

“As a nation we really have to figure out how to do a better job of bridging the gap between R&D funding and actual production,” said Burnham. “There has to be work done to make that happen. This is what I think makes the NDIS a really important document, because it’s calling for investment in workforce and it’s calling for investment in facilities both in the organic industrial base and in the domestic industrial base. We need to really figure out a way to implement that, and help Congress see that it’s actually near-term, it’s not wishful thinking about something that’s a decade away. This is something that if Congress invests in it now, we can see results now. And helping advocate for that position is a big part of what AM Coalition is trying to do, so when we do our second annual fly-in May 8th through the 10th, these are all going to be major points that we’ll be taking up.”

Anyone who wants to participate in the event should go the AM Coalition website here. And don’t forget to contact your Senators to ask them to finish the R&D Tax Bill!

Images courtesy of AM Coalition

Share this Article

Recent News

3D Printing Markets Grows 8% Year over Year

3D Printing News Unpeeled: Soft Robotics, Camera Accessories & Electronics 3D Printing


3D Design

3D Printed Art

3D Printed Food

3D Printed Guns

You May Also Like

3D Printing News Unpeeled: Trachea, Aluminum Alloys & HP Color 3D Printers

A lot of research has gone into 3D printing parts of or splints for the trachea. Now Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is offering patients bioresorbable trachea splints. The product might...

Flesh and Metal: Robot with 3D Printed Face and Living Skin

In an exciting leap for robotics, researchers at the University of Tokyo invented a way to attach living skin to robots. This technique, involving 3D printing and inspired by human...

3D Printing News Briefs, June 29, 2024: AI Machine Learning, Sensory Garden, Hard Hats, & More

In 3D Printing News Briefs today, we’re starting with Desktop Metal’s new PureSinter furnace. Then it’s on to research about a variable binder amount algorithm and adaptive slicing, a 3D...

3D Printing News Unpeeled: Indian Bridges, Lamps & Patches

Ohhio’s 3D printed lamps are super fun, kind of a bubblegum Memphis design, and they totally remind me how many designs and brands in 3D printing take themselves way too...