The first national 3D printing institute in the United States, America Makes, has begun to expand, finding a satellite location at the site of the institute’s platinum-level member, the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The first America Makes Satellite Center will be opening at UTEP, as a part of the W.M. Keck Center for 3-D Innovation.
As an institute facilitating public-private partnerships devoted to the research and development of 3D printing technologies, America Makes is the first such institute in the United States and the pilot program for the country’s growing National Network of Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI). The proposal for the NNMI was first drafted by the heads of a number of manufacturing companies – including Dow Chemical, Honeywell, Northrop Grumman, Intel, and Caterpillar – who described the purpose of the NNMI as a method for securing a US lead in manufacturing technology. As a result, America Makes, lead by the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), as well as several other manufacturing hubs were formed, which also consist of the Digital Lab for Manufacturing, the Lightweight and Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation, Power America – Wide Bandgap Semiconductors, and the Institute of Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation.
So, while the NNMI grows, so too does its pilot hub. Kevin Creehan, America Makes Deputy Director of Technology Transition, explains, “Real-world technology transition takes place because of the activities and pursuits that collaborative and symbiotic relationships provide.” Creehan continues, “With this new America Makes Satellite Center model, we are able to expand our current regional, industrial and technological footprint while further maximizing the reach and capabilities of the satellite through enhanced collaboration. We are proud to name America Makes member The University of Texas at El Paso as the site for the first America Makes Satellite Center.”
After a short list was drawn up of America Makes members and an internal and external vetting process, UTEP was ultimately chosen as the site for the Satellite Center. Ryan Wicker, the director of the school’s Keck Center for 3-D Innovation and professor of mechanical engineering, reflects on the benefits that the new partnership will bring to both parties, “This new relationship is beneficial for both America Makes and UTEP. UTEP brings an armada of state-of-the-art equipment, cutting edge research, education and workforce training to the partnership, and UTEP stands to benefit from the national and international spotlight on America Makes. NCDMM, the parent organization, has a broad base of defense and industrial partners that will afford UTEP dramatic new opportunities.”
The Keck Center, founded in 2001 with a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, is a 13,000-square-foot facility with more than 50 3D printing systems, as well as 50 faculty, staff, students, and researchers. At present, UTEP is already leading a research endeavor through America Makes. Using a $2.2 million grant, the school, along with the University of New Mexico, Youngstown State University, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, rp+m, and Stratasys, is working to improve 3D printing for aerospace systems.
It’s hard to draw any strict conclusions about the relationships between the America Makes institute, the DoD, and the defense manufacturing sector. It does seem possible to say that, as the defense non-profit NCDMM was chosen by the DoD to lead the institute, that projects and partners involved in defense manufacturing might be selected to lead 3D printing innovation in the US. In the case of UTEP and their America Makes endeavor, the research involves the 3D printing of multi-material electronics, ultimately for use in drones and satellites. That the new Satellite Center is located at a university with a variety of military ties seems to reinforce America Makes as an organization with particular interest in the defense industry.