While three-dimensional printing has been gaining popularity recently as a way to create miniature works of art, toys and gadgets, President Barack Obama believes it may also be a way to strengthen both the country’s manufacturing industry and its military.
The President has proposed a federally-funded $200 million competition that will use this technology to create three distinct manufacturing organizations across five federal agencies including the National Science Foundation, Commerce, Energy, Defense and NASA. This competition is part of a larger $1 billion effort by the White House to strengthen the manufacturing industry in the country.
3D printing, the process by which three-dimensional solid objects are formed from digital models, uses special 3D printers and is typically used for creating a logo for a sale or store promo materials. However, it could potentially have applications in numerous industries including direct mail, metals and automotive manufacturing, aerospace and defense. Specifically, however, the Obama administration will be focusing on next-generation power electronics, lightweight and modern metals manufacturing and digital manufacturing and design innovation.
The United States Defense Department will control two of the centers, one of which will focus on creating digital databases to help the process of manufacturing a complex weapons system, while the other will be aimed toward developing stronger, lighter weight metals for the next wave of body armor and military vehicles. The Energy Department will control the third center that will focus on smaller and more efficient technology for military power generators, the power grid and electric vehicles.
Besides aiding in military technology, these new centers could help the struggling commercial manufacturing and printing services industies, which have slowly declined over the past four decades as most manufacturing jobs have been transferred overseas.
The entire plan is still in the fabrication stage, as the announcement of these three centers was simply that: an announcement. The location for these centers is up for grabs, as companies and universities around the country will enter a competitive bidding process to determine where the centers will go.
The only drawback to this idea stems from lawmakers concerned about one particular application: guns. With 3D printing, people could design guns freely and make them readily available to everyone using the Internet. As a result, a few lawmakers are urging a ban on 3D-printed guns. Legal experts, on the other hand, claim that there is a strong gray area in terms of 3D-printed guns and whether or not they should be available for purchase.