Lately, we have been hearing quite a lot about national strategies supporting additive manufacturing (AM), implemented worldwide. Programs such as Horizon 2020 in Europe supporting the AM Motion initiative, for example, AM UK, the Made Smarter program, as well as America Makes in the US, are all geared towards pushing forward the industrialization of AM. How can a technology such as additive manufacturing impact industry on a national level? And in turn, how can a national strategy impact additive manufacturing?
A Local Gain equals a National Gain
“Additive manufacturing will impact local manufacturing by increasing the share of goods manufactured close to their point of consumption, which will, in turn, strengthen national and regional economies and entrepreneurship,” says an EU official. In Israel, even though there isn’t a specific AM centered strategy, the Innovation Authority finances technologically innovative projects developed by Israeli companies. One of the criteria they look at is the potential impact on the local economy. Michael Mandel chief economic strategist at the Progressive Policy Institute in Washington also shares this viewpoint, he states that “the number of large U.S. manufacturing facilities has dropped by more than a third since 2000, devastating many communities where factories were the lifeblood of the local economy”. He suggests reviving American manufacturing by “going small – and going local” specifically by implementing digital manufacturing methods which can answer local and customized needs. Doing so will allow a small or medium size company to compete with large scale overseas manufacturing, yet in order to do so there are certain roadblocks to overcome and this is where national strategies come in.
Enabling a Local Workforce
One of the roadblocks discussed here in the past is the lack of skills, this scarcity is one of the areas that the European Commission is interested in funding (below infographic by ManuFUTURE Vision 2030 supported by the European Commission). It’s not surprising as the potential impact AM can have on the local workforce is significant. Dr. Paul Unwin, the Industrial Chair of the Additive Manufacturing Strategy Steering Group (AM UK), explains that “in terms of job creation, the accelerated growth of additive manufacturing and associated service activities are expected to create circa 60,000 new, high skilled jobs by 2025”. This is a two-way street, on one hand, the additive manufacturing industry will create new jobs, on the other the current lack of skilled professionals needs to be addressed in order for the industry to grow. Funding for training and specialized university programs is one way to get there. America Makes, for example, has a training program – ACADEMI (Advanced Curriculum in Additive Design, Engineering, and Manufacturing Innovation) which is devoted to translating technical and business knowledge to industrial use. Itay Beck, Senior Manager in the Israel Innovation Authority and Director of the Startup Fund program, talks about the spillover effect. He points out that even though many startups fail, investing in a startup means investing in people, and while they may not have succeeded in this specific venture, the knowledge and experience gained will be translated to the next venture or the next company, hence creating an impact on the workforce and economy on a national level.
Beyond the Technical
While for people within the AM ecosystem the potential and possible industrial use cases of additive manufacturing are clear and known, there is still a lack of awareness both in industrial sectors as well as governments. One out of the two strategic key recommendations at AM UK deals with the issue of awareness. The second is, ‘ …. that AM is fundamentally linked to industrial digitalization’ both recommendations rely on educating, on communicating that the capabilities of AM go beyond the technical aspect, as Dr. Unwin points out: “No sector is immune and each company faces a different set of challenges and thus all barriers across the ecosystem need lowering”. While national strategies do fund projects engaged in the technological aspects, AM UK, the European Commission and the Israel Innovation Authority understand the importance of addressing non-technological barriers such as standardization, validation methods, intellectual property, and data security, in order to reach a wider market uptake of additive manufacturing (below infographic by Steering Group depicting the digital integration additive manufacturing).
The Path to AM Adoption Goes Through Collaboration
Funding each of these issues separately isn’t enough, the different aspects of the ecosystem need to work together for the industry to maximize the potential of additive manufacturing. “It is very evident, it is the collaboration and coordination of AM-related activities on a national basis that is turning the tide from a ‘technology push’ to an ‘industry pull,” says Dr. Unwin. There is a need for a constant back and forth with the industry in order to pinpoint the most promising applications on one hand and the possible setbacks on the other. AM Motion, a European initiative funded by Horizon 2020 aims to increase the adoption rate of AM for industrial use by connecting existing initiatives, regional networks, key stakeholders from technology and research centers, industrial associations, companies and so on. America Makes which is structured as a public-private initiative, even defines itself as a community, working together to increase national global manufacturing competitiveness.
A Competitive Advantage
“To remain globally competitive UK manufacturing must embrace these new synergistic technologies whilst managing the challenges of an ageing workforce, skills shortages, legacy infrastructure and new trading relationships” says Dr. Paul Unwin, he goes on saying “additive manufacturing is no-longer an aspirational technology; it is a ‘Must Have’ to remain competitive”. Similarly, the European Commission states that it has been “supporting the development of AM in order to keep the European economy at the forefront of innovation in manufacturing”. National strategies are investing in remaining competitive: in the UK Government’s 2018 Autumn Budget, as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Chancellor announced funding of up to £121m over 3 years for the Made Smarter challenge, which has since been expanded to up to £147m over 5 years. And in the EU, more than 60 projects focusing on AM technologies were funded, with over €160 million. These projects had a total budget of around €225 million. Between 2014 and 2017, 27 AM projects received EU funding of more than €113 million under the ‘Nanotechnologies, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology, and Advanced Manufacturing and Processing (NMBP)’ part of Horizon 2020.
Additive Manufacturing is more than a manufacturing method, it’s new applications, new materials, new business models. As such it has the potential to influence local and national economy. Instead of waiting for this to happen national initiatives are taking an active role. By defining roadmaps and providing the funding they can help accelerate the industrial adoption rate, they can provide both government and manufacturers a wider perspective as well as financial support (up top Airbus Helicopters additively manufactured latch shaft for a door).