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DC Fly-In event promotes AM’s role in U.S. Defense and modernized industrial base

The Additive Manufacturing Coalition held its second annual DC Fly-In encouraging U.S. policymakers to give the industry a boost

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The Additive Manufacturing Coalition held its second annual DC Fly-In from May 8-10 to encourage U.S. policymakers to give the industry a boost, particularly at a time when the U.S. industrial base is struggling to meet growing defense needs.

AM Coalition Director of Policy Mark Burnham said this year’s Fly-In built on the groundwork laid last year. “The focus was broader than last year, with more issues being raised, he said. “There was less basic education of staff needed so we could have somewhat more sophisticated policy conversations. That reflects growth.”

Forty-one attendees joined the Fly-In, including representatives from EOS, DyeMansion, Ricoh, Markforged, Wichita State University, Iowa State University, and SME. That represented a significant increase from the 27 attendees in 2023.

“The focus was broader than last year, with more issues being raised. There was less basic education of staff needed so we could have somewhat more sophisticated policy conversations. That reflects growth.”Mark Burnham, AM Coalition Director of Policy

Over the course of 70 meetings on Capitol Hill with both U.S. Senate and House staffers, attendees placed particular focus on urging the full implementation of the Department of Defense’s National Defense Industrial Strategy (NDIS), which articulates a strategic vision to coordinate and prioritize actions to build a modern defense industrial ecosystem. In particular, the report focuses on expanding beyond a small number of prime defense contractors to engage up-and-coming technology innovators, small and mid-sized manufacturers, academia, research labs, and funders, including private equity and venture capital.

Associate Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Debra Franklin, who attended from Kansas’ Wichita State, said a broad-based mobilization of industrial resources would be reminiscent of how the U.S. economy mobilized in World War II, in which factories that made cars and consumer packaged goods began turning out munitions and everything else needed for the war effort. The story of that transformation was told in a 2012 book called Freedom’s Forge. “If you’re a scholar of history and you saw what happened in World War II, there’s too many parallels,” she said.

The Additive Manufacturing Coalition held its second annual DC Fly-In to encourage U.S. policymakers to give the industry a boost

SME Chief Operating Officer Steve Prahalis said participating was an important opportunity to create awareness of the broad coalition of organizations working hard to advance manufacturing. His organization puts on the annual RAPID+TCT Show coming up next month in Los Angeles, but he said it’s critically important to meet with people beyond the AM community too.

“If I’m not on this trip, I don’t get to hear what people are really passionate about,” Prahalis said. “And as intimidating as it can seem to be here, it appears the reality is the door is really wide open – there is a real openness to what we have to say.”

AM Coalition members said they want the government to support small-to-medium manufacturers with capital investment and indefinite quantity/indefinite timeline contracts. While innovation often comes from these smaller manufacturers, they typically lack the financial capital to advance quickly. Meanwhile, Burnham said, larger contractors are often more focused on short-term financial targets and hedge funds tend to kill innovation in a race to maximize profitability.

Dr. Monica Gorman, special assistant to the president for manufacturing and industrial policy, met with Fly-In participants to kick off the agenda, and she acknowledged some of the industry’s needs and argued that the President’s initiatives, such as the CHIPS Act and the NDIS, are the right approach. “A modern American industrial strategy identifies the areas where relying on private industry alone does not necessarily mobilize the investment necessary to achieve the core economic and national security objectives that we have,” she said. “It’s important to say we know that public investments in research and innovation really are the engine of the economy, and crucially, that manufacturing innovation is also a component of that engine.

The Additive Manufacturing Coalition held its second annual DC Fly-In to encourage U.S. policymakers to give the industry a boost
Dr. Monica Gorman, Special Assistant to the President for Manufacturing & Industrial Policy, addressing the 2024 Additive Manufacturing Coalition DC Fly-In participants.

In particular, the administration touts the AM Forward Initiative launched in May 2022 as a tangible step for the AM industry in the U.S., getting the U.S. government and large OEMs like Honeywell and GE Aerospace to help small and medium-sized manufacturers get access to capital and secure commitments from the OEMs to buy parts from these smaller suppliers. While AM Forward’s initial focus is on aerospace specifically, the administration sees it as a potential model for other segments such as the automotive industry as well.

AM Coalition members also identified several other priorities that would give the AM industry a boost beyond NDIS implementation. These included supporting medical 3D printing with Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement of anatomic models to expand access beyond research hospitals, establishing more permanent funding opportunities for small and mid-sized manufacturers to create a more widely distributed manufacturing base, monitoring potentially predatory threats from Chinese competitors, and significantly increasing workforce training programs around AM and AM-related fields to address an AM workforce shortage of 50,000 that is continuing to grow.

Burnham said these initiatives provide lots of ways for connecting with legislators and staffers that have differing priorities. “We generally focus on the things that tend to be bipartisan, like jobs and national security,” he said. “Not everyone will agree with everything, but generally we can find common ground with most congressional offices.”

Attendees’ next step includes following up on key points, both via email and social media, and encouraging members of Congress to see coalition members’ innovations in action first-hand in their districts.

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Aaron Pearson

Aaron Pearson is the principal of Pearson Consulting LLC, a marketing and corporate communications firm that works with industrial technology companies. Aaron is the former vice president of public relations and analyst relations at global additive manufacturing solutions provider Stratasys. Previously he spent more than 20 years at global public relations firm Weber Shandwick as a Technology Practice leader. Aaron helps companies craft stories of positive transformation enabled by advanced manufacturing technologies to customers, partners, investors, and employees.

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