Now that 3D printing (additive manufacturing) has become the latest media darling, it's no surprise that this attention has awakened various national, state, and local authorities to its promise. Yes, I follow these developments because I have a vested interest as someone who owns a 3D printing, engineering and manufacturing firm. But part of my interest comes from growing up in a rust belt town once known as the "center of the universe" for steel manufacturing. (Very few steel plants remain today). Up the street (interstate) sits the New Stanton plant, so every time we drive between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, we pass the site. From the late 70s - late 80s, it housed a VW factory (a great coup for the state at the time) and afterward a Sony TV plant moved in and operated from the early 90s until 2008 when it also closed.
We are too familiar with this scenario which has played out numerous times in every state. Products have life cycles. Companies merge and consolidate. Production shifts to locations with better labor and material costs. So often public officials and civic leaders feel pressured to compete with one another to land the next big thing. Is that N-B-T additive manufacturing? Maybe...
America Makes, a collaboration of government, business, academic and non-profit representatives promotes 3D printing innovation and resides in the heart of the Rust Belt. Similar initiatives have since been launched...
An Illinois consortium was selected to lead The Digital Manufacturing & Design Innovation Institute.
The Lightweight & Modern Metals Manufacturing Innovation (LM3I) Institute will be directed by a Michigan-based consortium.
The Next Generation Power Electronics National Manufacturing Innovation Institute is comprised of a North Carolina-based consortium.
A competition is now underway (application deadline this week) to select a consortium for the Clean Energy Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Composites Materials and Structures.
And, not to be left behind, various counties, states and regions have joined pursuit.
Notice anything all these collaborations have in common? Any west of the Mississippi? I'm not saying there aren't any, but a quick internet search came up with none. Nor do I begrudge the rust belt - as someone who managed and lived through a plant closing there, I support bringing back manufacturing jobs to the region. And I live in Maryland, so obviously I'm excited about its promotion of 3D printing. But as someone whose AM business is headquartered in Portland, Oregon (yes, it's a long commute), I don't want the Northwest to miss out. Because, at least for now, this emerging technology should generate enough opportunities for all. The Northwest's demographics, location and passion for sustainability, collaboration, and creativity make it an ideal innovation hub.