By Jamison Cocklin
Since it was first announced in August, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute has wasted no time in showing the country that progress is its main goal.
The consortium’s work is being watched closely, after Friday’s announcement from the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation that landed NAMII on the second annual Top 10 list of the most innovative economic development initiatives across the country.
In five short months that work has started to take shape. Chief among the latest developments was NAMII’s decision to open membership to the broader additive manufacturing and research community, one that has helped to generate additional revenue and expand what initially was a regional consortium into one that is rapidly becoming a national one.
“That’s a big part of it; there’s all this talk about the Tech Belt and Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Youngstown, but we didn’t want to be viewed as a regional cluster of innovation,” said Scott Deutsch, spokesman for the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining, which leads NAMII’s more than 65 private and public members. “It’s really a national network, and the reality is that Youngstown is its hub of activity. That does great things for the city and the country.”
Most recently, open membership has brought the University of Texas at Austin, the Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Texas at El Paso into a diverse fold of other universities, private companies and nonprofits.
Now that anyone can join the consortium, Deutsch said, membership can be obtained in tiers with companies or universities choosing to join as lead, full or supporting members. Each tier comes with an annual fee ranging from $200,000 to $15,000, depending on what level of benefits a particular group is interested in.
NAMII’s primary goal will be to make advancements in additive manufacturing through extensive research and development. The technology utilizes 3-D software that draws up a detailed blueprint, which is then transmitted to a specialized machine that uses plastics, metals or resins to print a product layer-by-layer, cutting out costly material and labor in the process.
Hurdles still remain, however, such as the speed at which products can be manufactured and constraints on the size of what can be produced, as well as the material from which products can be made.
In its decision to name NAMII to its innovators list, Brookings cited Youngstown’s industrial decline over the years, but also noted the fact that the sector remains robust here, accounting for 12 percent of total employment. NAMII’s role in potentially bolstering the region’s industrial sector by commercializing its breakthroughs in advanced and additive manufacturing shows promise in creating jobs and growing the local economy, a possibility that gave rise to its place on Brookings’ list.
“Additive manufacturing is going to transform every sector of our national economy, and the innovations will be rippling out of the Mahoning Valley,” said Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-13th, who also agreed with Brookings’ take on the consortium’s ability to poise the country for greater global competition.
On Jan. 31, the consortium will close its first call for projects. NAMII, formally established Aug. 16, has been accepting project proposals from its members since the end of November, with research submissions roughly focused on the kinds of materials that can be used, production speeds, the manufacturing process and its bearing on quality.
Deutsch said winning proposals will be selected sometime in March by a review team, at which point the consortium will begin the bulk of its work. Projects will be funded in part by NAMII, depending on what kind of financing a member has requested. The rest will be covered by cost-sharing.
Another round of project proposals is expected later in the year.
Deutsch could not elaborate on what types of proposals are coming in, saying only that “we are expecting to have a robust amount of options to choose from.” It remains unclear whether the public will be privy to any of NAMII’s research and development, as much of its work will deal heavily with issues of intellectual property that could find applications in the defense industry.
Renovations are ongoing at the group’s headquarters at 236 W. Boardman St. downtown. Deutsch said activity will pick up there and be more noticeable by February.