When leaders in the field of additive manufacturing gather on Penn State's University Park campus this week, they'll be meeting at one of the leading universities promoting the industrial breakthrough and its potential to revitalize U.S. manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing -- sometimes referred to as 3-D printing -- involves making products from a digital model. Components are created by a machine depositing thin layers of materials such as metal, plastic and ceramic repeatedly to form a three-dimensional object.
Penn State is home to the Center for Innovative Materials Processing through Direct Digital Deposition (CIMP-3D) and a member of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII), a consortium of research universities, manufacturing firms, community colleges and non-profit organizations working to create a new model of collaboration with higher education that will help revitalize U.S. manufacturing. Both CIMP-3D and NAMII are sponsors of a two-day summit on additive manufacturing being held Jan. 8 and 9 at The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. In addition to personnel from the University, speakers will include representatives from Lockheed Martin, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Alcoa.
"It will revolutionize the manufacturing ecosystem," said Irene Petrick, a professor in the College of Information Sciences and Technology, who will speak Jan. 8 on "A View and Vision of Additive Manufacturing."
Petrick, who also runs a consulting firm offering services such as technology forecasting and product development, said additive manufacturing has been around for more than two decades, but has only become affordable in recent years. The introduction of lower-priced printers that can be operated by nonexperts "will return manufacturing to the garage," according to her forecast. As barriers fall, innovation will grow among "artisanal entrepreneurs." That's promising, she said, because small businesses are job creators. She envisions additive manufacturing upending the current supply chain, allowing for companies, such as carmakers, to create their own assemblies and subassemblies rather than rely on parts from multiple suppliers.
Penn State's Applied Research Laboratory -- with research organization Battelle Memorial Institute and welding machine maker Sciaky Corp. -- operates the CIMP-3D as a resource for advancing additive manufacturing in metallic and advance material systems. CIMP-3D is a Manufacturing Demonstration Facility under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Open Manufacturing Program. Tours and demonstrations at the facility will be offered to the public from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Jan. 8.
The Youngstown, Ohio-based NAMII is a public-private partnership, which includes Penn State among its consortium of universities, community colleges, nationwide manufacturing firms and nonprofits from Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. The consortium, established in 2012 and selected through a competitive process led by the Department of Defense, will be bolstered by $30 million in federal funding and $40 million from consortium members. NAMII is a pilot institute to serve as a proof-of-concept for a White House plan to create a national network of innovation centers, breathing new life in U.S. manufacturing during difficult economic times.
CIMP-3D and NAMII are sponsoring the Technology Showcase on Additive Manufacturing, which runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Jan. 8.
From 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Jan. 9, the Technology Exchange on Additive Manufacturing is sponsored by DARPA's Open Manufacturing Program through CIMP-3D. That day's events are open only to Department of Defense personnel and Department of Defense contractors.
The prospect of on-site development that could allow for the creation of materials in the field as well as the ability to create high-strength, lightweight materials, makes additive manufacturing particularly attractive to the defense industry, according to Petrick. The technology also is on the radar screens of a wide swath of the manufacturing industry, from aerospace engineers on down to the makers of basic consumer goods, she said.
The tech-heavy process could make manufacturing "sexy again" to a younger generation, she said, and some experts believe progress will be so rapid as to compare to Moore's law in the world of computers: The number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles every two years. In her research, Petrick wrote that sales and services associated with additive manufacturing are expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2015; it took 20 years for the industry to reach the $1 billion mark.
But as additive manufacturing grows, Petrick warns that the shakeup could have consequences for any manufacturers set in their ways.
"If you're not IT (information technology) savvy and you don't have an IT strategy, you had better get one," she said. "If you think you're going to compete on cost alone that won't be true a decade from now. You'll be competing on your ability to be flexible."