3D printing or additive fabrication is a hot topic, and not just to the engineers, fabricators and hobbyists anymore. It seems to be becoming part of the political symbology wrapped up in economic recovery or development. As I commented on the Made in Dayton blog, the National Academies Press recently released a report about Building the Ohio Innovation Economy that includes significant emphasis on additive fabrication, and the President mentioned the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, located in Youngstown, in his State of the Union address. There is also the Midwest Pilot for connecting High Performance Computing (HPC) resources to small and medium manufacturing concerns. As we saw in this topology optimization post, there is considerable need for scale-able computational approaches to fully realize the promise of additive manufacturing. Closer to home, your Dayton hackerspace is playing with a printrbot.
The NAP report has two sections of interest.
- Panel II: Stimulating Manufacturing in Ohio
- Panel III: Innovation Clusters and Economic Development
Dr. Proenza told participants that this issue should be of concern to all because America's capacity to innovate determines its capability for economic growth. "Knowledge builds new capacities just as surely as new materials build new structures," he said, "and our nation's investments in research have built real assets that yield real and large returns. When new knowledge is quantified in a market environment, it creates fuller employment, capital formation, growing profits and surpluses for reinvestment. "In other words, research discoveries lead to new companies and new jobs; the economy expands, and new wealth is created."Care is required here. Things are not as straight-forward as Dr. Proenza says. The rate of return for government investment in R&D can vary widely. Many types do not return at a rate significantly different from zero.
I've written previously on Dayton's Aerospace Cluster, so I won't touch on this topic much other than to say clusters are in the eye of the beholder. They are most real to the academics, consultants and ever-hopeful regional politicians that use the abstraction as a good hook for papers, consulting gigs, and rah-rah for re-elections.
The NDEMC Midwest Pilot is intended to increase the penetration of high performance modeling and simulation tools into the small and medium businesses that make up the regional supply chain. The hope is to increase competitiveness by lowering cost and time-to-market and increase efficiency and innovation through the use of advanced simulation tools.
|Midwest Pilot for MS&A in the Regional Supply Chain|
One of the most successful commons of our networked age is the Free Software ecosystem built up around GNU-Linux operating systems like Red Hat/Fedora and Debian/Ubuntu. One thing that discouraged me about the approach outlined in the Midwest Pilot white-paper was that, while lowering the barriers to entry for small businesses to use modeling and simulation was a point of emphasis, no mention was made of Free Software. Free Software can have very low barriers to entry and extremely attractive Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for small businesses. The white-paper mentioned commercial software vendors developing innovative licensing arrangements and pay-as-you-go Software-as-a-Service to lower barriers to entry. I think a neglected piece of this puzzle is the role free source software can play in radically increasing the penetration of advanced modeling and simulation tools into supply chains, especially in the context of additive fabrication. There are several viable business models:
- Support Sellers (otherwise known as "Give Away the Recipe, Open A Restaurant"), e.g. Red Hat
- Service Enabling
- Loss Leader
- Widget Frosting
I am hopeful about new technology for direct digital fabrication mainly because I'm an engineer and I think new technology is neat. It is a little concerning that "Manufacturing" seems to be pleading for a special place in our economic policy. Why is fabrication more important or deserving of special treatment over other economic activity? As much as I love designing and making parts, there are many activities that have higher value in our modern economy than manufacturing, even "innovative" manufacturing.