Air Force Enhancing U.S. Manufacturing Capability

The Air Force Research Laboratory, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate (AFRL/RX) led an interagency collaborative effort to launch a public-private partnership called America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

As the first Institute of Manufacturing Innovation, America Makes will serve as an example of best practices for the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) as it brings together diverse groups from academia, industry, and government to develop technologies and foster manufacturing innovation.

This effort was awarded to the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM), a not-for-profit company, in August 2012. AFRL/RX was chosen to lead this initiative due to the continued role of managing the Defense-wide Manufacturing Science and Technology Program for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Manufacturing and Industrial Base Policy.

The technical focus area for the first institute is additive manufacturing, more commonly known as 3D Printing.

Photo provided by America Makes/Released)

(Photo provided by America Makes/Released)

This is a suite of emerging technologies to fabricate metallic, plastic, ceramic, and electronic parts for applications as diverse as lightweight aerospace structures and custom biomedical implants, all using a layer-by-layer technique where material is placed precisely based on a 3D digital file.

Additive manufacturing is an enabling technology for the military, providing the capability to produce repair parts in-theater, allowing for last-minute design adjustments in response to mission changes, and building complex parts more affordably.

The main goal of the institute is to bridge the gap between basic research and technology adoption.

The Manufacturing and Industrial Technologies Division of AFRL provides program management, technical leadership, and chairs the interagency technology advisory board overseeing the institute. The team consists of technical experts within the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and the Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Management of America Makes is through a cooperative agreement where participating organizations share a vision for transitioning manufacturing technology, creating an adaptive workforce capable of meeting industry needs and further increasing domestic competitiveness.

The America Makes Innovation Factory is located in downtown Youngstown, Ohio in the center of the regional cluster of universities and businesses across the “Tech-Belt,” extending from Northeastern Ohio into Northwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Led by the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI) and using leveraged state and local funding, an abandoned furniture warehouse was transformed into an urban manufacturing loft with open collaborative laboratory spaces. State-of-the-art additive manufacturing equipment is entrusted to the Innovation Factory by member companies.

This collaborative environment encourages technology development and dissemination, while providing small businesses access to necessary equipment and expertise.

America Makes developed a national strategy for additive manufacturing with strong leadership from the member companies. Based on this strategy, America Makes has launched over twenty applied research projects focusing on technical areas in design, materials characterization, process monitoring and control, and qualification and certification of additive manufacturing material and processes.

These projects involve $13.5M government funding plus $15M industry cost share and 95 research team member organizations. Many of these projects will have direct benefit and impact to current and future Air Force systems.

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