Additive manufacturing center receives boost to its credibility

Its name doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily as GM Lordstown, V&M Star or Utica shale exploration, but it is no less important to the Mahoning Valley’s future as any of the other pillars of the economy.

Although still in its infancy, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) in downtown Youngstown has brought national and international attention to the region. If the announcement in August of the institute’s establishment was a crowning achievement for the Valley, the recent recognition by the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation opened the door to instant credibility.

Brookings and Rockefeller included the NAMII in its Top 10 list of the most innovative economic development initiatives across the country.

Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director for the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, wrote: “It was not only the sophistication of the proposal but also the array of partners who came together for this. That kind of collaboration is the sort that yields good outcomes for the economy.”

The Brookings-Rockefeller listing recognizes initiatives that “show the most promise for creating jobs, growing regional economies, and boosting global competitiveness in 2013.”

Quite an endorsement considering that the program is still taking shape and the ribbon cutting at its 236 W. Boardman St. location took place in October.

But like General Motors’ Lordstown assembly plant, which is producing the highly successful Chevrolet Cruze, V&M Star, which is making steel pipe in its modernized complex, and the Utica oil and gas exploration with the promise of unforeseen riches, the NAMII is the Mahoning Valley’s future. It represents the region’s entry into the competitive high-tech global arena.

What is unique about the $70 million project is that it has brought together nine research universities, including Youngstown State, Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve; five community colleges, including Eastern Gateway Community College; 40 companies, and 11 nonprofit organizations in the Cleveland-Youngstown-Pittsburgh Tech Belt.

Of the $70 million, $30 million came from the federal government in a national competition of manufacturing innovation consortiums, and $40 million from the regional participants.

Additional revenue

Since its launching, NAMII has recognized the potential of being more than a regional initiative. Thus, it has decided to open membership to the broader additive manufacturing and research community. The expansion has helped generate additional revenue and expand what initially was a regional consortium into one with a national reach.

Among the new participants are the University of Texas at Austin, the Missouri University of Science and Technology and the University of Texas at El Paso.

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.

It’s going to take a while before the region is as comfortable discussing additive manufacturing as it is talking auto manufacturing and steel making, but we’re off to a brilliant start.

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