America Makes’ Air Force 3D printing project soars to new heights

America Makes, the Ohio-based AM accelerator, has helped the U.S Air Force set up operations to 3D print low-cost replacement parts for legacy aircraft. Soon, these operations will bring 3D printing capabilities to another branch of the U.S military.

Rob Gorham, America Makes’ Executive Director, said that the U.S Army and the Navy are “already looking at outputs from this project to try to find ways to deploy that across their networks.”

Established by the U.S Department of Defence, America Makes is part of the Manufacturing USA network. The network includes 14 public-private institutes dedicated to promoting advanced manufacturing in the U.S. America Makes is responsible for accelerating the development and adoption of additive manufacturing.

The Silicon Valley of additive manufacturing

In 2016, America Makes was awarded $10 million in funding by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), to kick-start the three-phased Maturation of Advanced Manufacturing for Low-cost Sustainment (MAMLS) project. The goal of the MAMLS is the rapid replacement of parts of legacy and other military aircrafts using 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing techniques.

The DoD has now granted America Makes over $9 million in funds to oversee the completion of MAMLS.

Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, who helped secure the recent funding, presented the $9,045,915 check. The Congressman believes that the award money will go a long way to turn Mahoning Valley (Youngstown, Ohio) into “the Silicon Valley of additive manufacturing.”

“We are becoming the hub of the most progressive additive manufacturing initiative in the entire country and hopefully the entire world.”

The award is part of $30 million grant allocated by the DoD for the MAMLS. The following have received $10,095,814, Youngstown State UniversityYoungstown Business Incubator, and M-7 technologies, a manufacturing cost-reducing solutions providers.

Tim Ryan (far right), the U.S Representative for Ohio's 13th congressional district at the award ceremony. Photo courtesy of Robert K. Yosay
Tim Ryan (far right), the U.S Representative for Ohio’s 13th congressional district at the award ceremony. Photo courtesy of Robert K. Yosay

Accelerating 3D printing

To guide the development of additive manufacturing, other nations have also set up organizations like America Makes. These include Make in India, Singapore’s National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) and Innovate UK.

In 2017, the Indian government, as part of the Make in India project, announced the plan for opening a $6 million 3D printing facility for medical devices.

Recently, NAMIC partnered with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore, to establish an on-port 3D printing marine repair facility in Singapore.

Similarly, Innovate UK is a non-governmental body responsible for innovation of cutting edge and disruptive technologies in the UK. The organization has arranged many funding opportunities to initiate or support 3D printing projects. Two of its projects include a grant of $782,000 for 3D printing post-processing methods and a £6.5 million grant to an aerospace AM project.

Such organizations bring together experts from across the country to develop additive manufacturing. A good example of this is America Makes’ Standardization Roadmap for Additive Manufacturing, which includes 150 contributors from the AM industry.

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Featured image shows the Hill Air Force Base, Utah. The MAMLS project has brought advanced 3D printing capabilities to the air base. Image via Hill Air Force Base. Image via Hill Air Force Base.