3D printing industry leaders are now praising U.S. President Joe Biden after announcing a new initiative known as “Additive Manufacturing Forward” (AM Forward), aimed at improving U.S. domestic supply chain resilience by focusing on additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3D printing. The AM Forward initiative is a voluntary compact that aims to encourage large companies to source additively manufactured parts from smaller U.S.-based suppliers.
Boosting 3D Printing:
Launched last week and set to be supported by a new Supply Chain Office, which will be established at the U.S. Department of Commerce by the administration’s Bipartisan Innovation Act (if passed), the initiative is designed to be a partnership between several large U.S. original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and some of their small and medium enterprise (SME) suppliers to help speed up their adoption of additive manufacturing technology and upgrade their capabilities. So far, industry leaders such as GE Aviation, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Siemens energy have joined the initiative.
Improving Supply Chain Resilience:
With U.S. inflation at its highest in 40 years, these public and private efforts have potential benefits up and down supply chains in many industries: enhancing small firms’ ability to make and sell higher-performing parts, shortening lead firms’ wait times for needed parts, increasing workers’ wages, and expanding consumers’ access to better products. The increased ability to customize production and the reduced need for specialized components together enable personalization of products and reduce the need to hold inventory.
Barriers of Adoption:
While additive manufacturing has significant potential benefits, there are several reasons small U.S.-based manufacturers may not adopt such new technologies. First, they may lack a clear demand signal from their customers who are not willing to make advance commitments to buy products from companies that invest in such equipment. This can make an investment in equipment like 3D-printers seem quite risky; developing the ability to print parts in metal is expensive and could amount to expenses much greater than suppliers’ normal annual investment budgets.
Second, because of the lack of a clear demand signal, many of these manufacturers may find they cannot access affordable financing that would support these investments. Finally, firms may lack the knowledge needed to use new technologies, like 3D-printers, or to train their workers appropriately. This is where AM Forward comes in.
To address these issues, the initial original equipment manufacturer (OEM) participants made up of General Electric Aviation, Honeywell, Siemens Energy, Raytheon Technologies, and Lockheed Martin, will work directly with their U.S.-based suppliers to demonstrate clear demand for additively-produced parts. The initiative will be supported by the non-profit Applied Science & Technology Research Organization (ASTRO). In a White House statement, the Biden Administration highlighted plans to launch federal programs to help small- and medium-sized manufacturers support the adoption of adequate capacity and increase competitiveness through access to capital, technical assistance, and workforce training.
The AM Forward initiative will leverage the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Business and Industry program, as well as the Export-Import Bank’s new domestic lending program and the Small Business Administration’s 504 Loan program to help these firms and other SME metalworkers finance the new equipment.To fully benefit from the use of AM capabilities, the Biden Administration stated, SME manufacturers must train their workforce differently to successfully deploy AM technologies, including upskilling workers. For this, America Makes will develop a curriculum for workforce training with AM Forward participants and, along with the US Department of Labor, will assist manufacturers in launching apprenticeship programs in Additive Manufacturing.