Aug 23, 2016 | By Alec

Almost all specialists agree: the 3D printing revolution is picking up steam. Especially industrial-grade 3D printing is seen as the big driver behind the 3D printing market’s growth, and is expected to be adopted in large numbers over the coming years. Current trends even convinced the IDC to adjust their expectations on the growth of worldwide spending on 3D printing, and they recently predicted that this spending will surpass the $35 billion mark by 2020. So where is all that growth taking place? Well, an unexpected contender could be about to appear. According to a new report, Northeast Ohio has all the necessary elements to become the Silicon Valley of 3D printing in the near future.

This remarkable conclusion comes from the Asset Map of Additive Manufacturing Opportunities in Northeast Ohio, which has been compiled by the Youngstown Business Incubator (YBI), America Makes, Team Northeast Ohio (Team NEO), and the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network. The study itself was launched in November 2015, funded by the Fund for Our Economic Future, and recently finished. Its purpose was, as the group put it, to determine the feasibility of a 3D printing cluster in Northeast Ohio, a “geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers, service providers and associated institutions.”

In short, they wanted to see if and how 3D printing’s potential (with a market already worth $7 billion) can be brought to the industry of Northeastern Ohio, and it’s not such a bad idea. The region has long been known as a manufacturing hub, and is home to more than 2,000 companies that produce or process metal, plastic, and rubber in the area. In particular, the study believes that these companies can not only use 3D printing for prototyping purposes, but also highlights opportunities for direct manufacturing and tooling. “We want our region to be known internationally as a center for additive manufacturing, as a place where, if you are a European manufacturer of a 3D printing machine and you want to find a place to locate in the U.S., that this would logically be the place,” said Tim Fahey, vice president of industry and innovation at Team NEO.

But it is also a region that needs a new economic development plan, and this ‘Asset Map’ argues that 3D printing could provide the boost the region needs. Aside from its strong manufacturing base, the report argues, it is also home to a variety of university and institutional resources and market connections (especially with biomedical and aerospace sectors) – which could all contribute the region’s development into a major 3D printing hotspot. Among others, America Makes and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute are already located in Northeast Ohio. But there are also several hurdles to overcome, such as a lack of software initiatives and limited venture funding. Nonetheless, the Silicon Valley of 3D printing could be in the making.

The full Asset Map report can be found here, which offers a comprehensive look into regional efforts with 3D printing, as well as an overview of existing barriers and of the potential benefits of 3D printing. According to Fahey, it was a ‘no brainer’ to focus on 3D printing due to the strong presence of the technology in the region. “When you couple those facts with the rich design and engineering resources we have in our universities such as the University of Akron, Case Western Reserve University, and Youngstown State University, the region has an opportunity to not only be at the center of the supply chain for additive manufacturing, but to also produce the leaders of this design transformation,” he said.

According to Barb Ewing, chief operating officer of the Youngstown Business Incubator, the presence of America Makes gives the region huge potential. However, America Makes is mainly focused on technological, rather than economic, development so the Asset Map also serves as a tool for convincing numerous players to combine their forces with an eye on 3D printing. “You need all of your players on the field,” Ewing said, adding that if Northeast Ohio can see itself as part of a larger Cleveland-Pittsburgh ‘TechBelt,’ it can become a very competitive tech region.

But according to the report, significant hurdles need to be overcome before Northeast Ohio can become the Silicon Valley of 3D printing. While some are technological and financial, the main problem is that companies are averse to failure and hesitant to adopt unproven technologies. Education will thus play a huge role in this growth process, as many companies simply don’t know how 3D printing can positively affect their workflow. “We need to create educational programs, not just educating workers, but educating traditional manufacturers on how the technology can apply to their businesses,” Fahey argued.

This is just one part of Asset Map’s seven-year plan to introduce 3D printing. The report further outlines five main goals and steps, which all contribute to fostering a healthy 3D printing climate:

  • The formation of a regional innovation cluster.
  • The expansion of 3D printing applications through investments in tech support, capital equipment, workforce and education.
  • Development of educational and workforce training initiatives.
  • Setting up 3D printing supply chains in the main target industries: automotive, biomedical and aerospace.
  • The creation of an environment in which makers and entrepreneurs can thrive.

While some of these targets are vaguer than the others, all will help to provide a structure that moves all individual partners forward. A supporting financial structure will be partly provided by individual organizations who can redirect funds, but the U.S. Department of Commerce is also looking into economic development support options. A number of local companies will be designated for advisory and networking tasks.

While this is obviously a very long term plan, Fahey is confident that they will be seeing some short-term success if partners begin adopting additive manufacturing for tooling purposes already – which would certainly help the area to strengthen their manufacturing base. In time, those kinds of changes will hopefully create more jobs and draw more people to Northeast Ohio. “We think this becomes a great attraction tool long term,” Fahey said.

Brad Whitehead, president of the Fund for our Economic Future, was very optimistic about the region’s chances. “This report tells us that the opportunities in additive manufacturing are immense for our region and Northeast Ohio can strengthen its manufacturing future and establish a leadership role in additive manufacturing by initiating partnerships with local businesses and neighboring regions that offer complementary assets,” Whitehead said. “We now have a roadmap on how to take advantage of this asset.”

While the Silicon Valley of 3D printing won’t be built overnight, a roadmap is ready in Northeast Ohio. “The ball already is rolling,” Ewing concluded. “We have a number of initiatives already underway.”

 

 

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Ed wrote at 8/28/2016 10:38:03 PM:

I am glad to see that Ohio sees the great potential of 3 D Printing its a great new begining so much to explore



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