Public-private partnerships are helping colleges and universities develop a skilled workforce for the future of additive manufacturing

Higher ed ramps up to fill gaps in 3D printing industry


Public-private partnerships are helping colleges and universities develop a skilled workforce for the future of additive manufacturing

Grants and public-private partnerships are helping to drive the expansion of these programs.

At Auburn University in Alabama, a $3 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), awarded in August 2020, initiated a two-year aerospace additive manufacturing project at Auburn’s National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (NCAME). Working with the FAA, NCAME aims to improve commercial air travel by carrying out research into additively manufactured metal components. The project involves fabricating metal parts produced with several “industrial-scale” 3D printers.

NCAME was established in 2017 through a public-private partnership between Auburn University and NASA.

This past October, the U.S. Army launched a $22.8 million, five-year cooperative agreement with the University of Maryland at College Park that will focus on additive manufacturing science. This alliance will foster and accelerate cutting-edge foundational additive manufacturing materials and technology development to advance hybrid materials research capabilities. In part, the alliance will use resulting advances in agile expedient manufacturing to advance Army modernization efforts.

In January, the University of Maine (UMaine) Advanced Structures and Composites Center in Orono was awarded $2.8 million from the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to develop a rapid, low-cost additive manufacturing solution for fabricating large, segmented wind blade molds.

Also, the UMaine Composites Center will collaborate on a $4-million award to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to apply robotic deposition of continuous reinforcing fibers in wind blades.

“The University of Maine remains a leader in additive manufacturing and wind energy technology, and this funding will harness researchers’ expertise in both areas,” said Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King in a joint announcement of the award. “We are thrilled that the Department of Energy continues to invest in UMaine’s cutting-edge research and prioritizes the advancement of our state’s clean energy economy and the creation of good-paying jobs.”

On March 1, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, announced that The University of Toledo (UToledo) to has been awarded a $50,000 National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to support the university’s research into additive manufacturing of nickel titanium aerospace actuators. In aircraft, actuators are used to control and limit velocity and engine speed by adjusting levers and flaps.

“This award provides us with the ability to explore the potential users that value using additive manufacturing to advance the performance of shape memory alloys. These alloys are very important as actuators for advanced aerospace systems,” said Dr. Mohammad Elahinia, Distinguished University Professor and chair of the Department of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering in the UToledo College of Engineering in a press release.

Going forward, additive manufacturing will continue to transform product design, development, and manufacturing. A workforce skilled in the technology is vital. Higher education institutions can step in to meet this need with the development of all levels of workforce-oriented training programs. A program can start small, with labs connected to existing departments. These can expand into makerspaces, then innovation centers.

As programs grow and student participation increases, sharing knowledge and resources with other institutions and forming partnerships with industry and government will allow institutions to produce the skilled workforce required to carry this technology to its fullest potential.

eSchool Media Contributors