There is no shortage of evidence today that U.S. supply chains are in need of some assistance. As many AdditiveManufacturing.com readers know, AM is (and has been) poised to provide deep and lasting relief to manufacturers of all sizes and to improve supply chains.
“U.S. supply chains have become fragile and thus a drag on the economy. As awareness of the costs of supply chain disruptions has increased, firms are acting to increase their resilience,” according to the 2022 Economic Report of the President.
Thanks to the additive manufacturing community’s rapid response to supply issues of critical PPEs during the pandemic, the U.S. Government took note and recently launched “AM Forward,” a public-private agreement with large American companies, such as GE Aviation, Lockheed Martin, Siemens Energy, Honeywell, and Raytheon Technologies to broaden the use of AM by U.S.-based small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs).
Save the Date: If you don’t want to miss insights into this supply chain issue, join the upcoming Discussion Panel: AM Forward: Building a Robust American Supply Chain for the Future at the June 20 – 22, 2022 AM Industry Summit.
As part of this initiative, these five large manufacturers also have committed to purchasing AM-made parts from small and medium-sized companies, and to provide technical assistance and training to help them adopt AM methods and equipment.
AM Forward will help overcome common challenges that have slowed the deployment of AM technologies, particularly among smaller manufacturers, including:
- Providing access to capital to SME manufacturers
- Delivering technical assistance from the federal government and OEMs to SME manufacturers (knowledge creation and transfer is a significant barrier to AM adoption)
- Investing in the additive manufacturing workforce (training programs)
- Setting industry standards
Helping manufacturers to embrace additive manufacturing is essential, but as the pandemic PPE efforts demonstrated, the technology goes beyond the companies and organizations directly involved, and extends to newly trained workers and the communities in which they live.
By increasing the number of local companies involved with or using 3D printing, consumers will become more aware, be more likely to purchase unique, and innovative products; see ways the “new” technologies might improve their lives. More so, workers may see ways to solve a problem, just as 3D printer owners rallied to form hubs that printed PPE masks and parts.
Let’s briefly revisit how the national PPE effort was community-led, crowdsourced by knowledgeable 3D printing experts, sometimes these people are called hobbyists (far from it, actually), quickly banded together and solved a problem that manufacturers struggled with. These ad hoc networks of printer owners overcame market failures and provided a model, one that I mentioned caught the attention of the federal government and drove them to create a new program that matches small- and medium-sized manufacturers with U.S. government programs. The Veterans Health Administration was a big part of the 3D model propagation, showcasing tested and approved models, for group networks to print. It continues to iterate on being part of this effort with the VHA Innovation Ecosystem.
There are plenty of national programs that strive to do this and provide value to engineers, makers, citizens, and manufacturers. America Makes is a national accelerator and the nation’s leading collaborative partner for technology research, discovery, creation, and innovation in additive manufacturing and 3D printing (it is also an AdditiveManufacturing.com alliance/partner). Other initiatives from the SBA and Department of Labor also provide assistance to manufacturers considering AM. There are a myriad of programs to help small and mid-size companies with additive manufacturing, but finding them all and connecting is hard. AM Forward appears to be ready to solve that challenge.
Naturally, AM Forward is focused on U.S. companies, however, it also provides value for international companies, many of whom are AdditiveManufacturing.com readers. The U.S. clearly is not the only nation facing supply chain hiccups and this initiative will provide a model for how others can solve interconnected, global manufacturing challenges, lifting all boats in this proverbial tide. There may be a supply chain problem today, but given these efforts, it will not last long.
Learn more in the upcoming panel discussion, led by ASTRO America, organizer of the AM Forward program, to understand how the commitments from stakeholders to provide resources and processes to additively produce parts will enhance SME competitiveness, and increase productivity for a future supply chain that is American-based and more resilient.