US pilot manufacturing program kicks off with additive manufacturing focus

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The US Government is launching a Pilot Institute for Manufacturing Innovation to serve as a proof-of-concept for a broader National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Its first mission: develop and improve methodologies for additive manufacturing processes.

Within the President's announced fiscal 2013 budget is a proposed $1 billion National Network for Manufacturing Innovation to catalyze a network of up to fifteen "Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation," bringing together efforts from industry, education, and federal and state governments to invest in "industrially-relevant manufacturing technologies with broad applications." The goal is to "bridge the gap between basic research and product development, provide shared assets to help companies -- particularly small manufacturers -- access cutting-edge capabilities and equipment, and create an unparalleled environment to educate and train students and workers in advanced manufacturing skills."

The first thrust in this initiative will be creation of a Pilot Institute for Manufacturing Innovation, drawing from resources among several federal departments (Defense, Energy, Commerce) and the National Science Foundation. Selected as the Pilot Institute's initial technology focus: additive manufacturing, the process of joining materials layer-by-layer to make objects from three-dimensional model data.

Work will pursue a wide range of advanced capabilities:

  • Processes: Develop open architecture additive manufacturing processes that have flexibility in starting raw materials and processing conditions, that can utilize open-source machine- control software customizable for specific applications.

  • Properties: Fabricate novel hybrid materials at relevant scale with multifunctional properties: tailored stiffness, electrical conductivity, and cooling passages, including the potential use of direct-write and deposition processes.

  • Capabilities: Improve as-deposited surface finish, deposition rates, manufacturing throughput, and process reliability; evaluate deposition methods for improved surface finish, corrosion resistance, and wear resistance.

  • Measurement: Incorporate in-situ metrology and process controls to measure quality and performance attributes.

  • Meet DoD needs: Create advanced manufacturing enterprise methodologies for enabling rapid design and functional fabrication of current and future Department of Defense (DoD) platforms, through integration of digital designs with reverse engineering techniques, using computational tools and mechanisms.

  • Low energy: Evaluate fabrication methods with lower energy-intensity.

  • Qualification: Develop advanced methods to rapidly and affordably qualify additive manufacturing processes.

Up to $45 million in federal funding is behind the Pilot Institute for Manufacturing Innovation: $25 million from the DoD and DoE to support equipment and manufacturing projects, $15 million for advanced manufacturing equipment, and $10 million budgeted for additive manufacturing projects by joint DoD manufacturing Technology programs. (Another $5 million in funding will come from the National Institute of Standards and Technology [NIST] for advanced manufacturing research, an $5 million from other government agencies to support workforce development and basic research in advanced manufacturing.) The DoD could also kick in another $10 million funding to support scaling-up of production technologies for critical national defense needs. Agencies' contributions are hoped to be matched by "industry cost-sharing" as well as funding from state and local communities.

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