Ohio center exemplifies Obama's latest plan

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President Barack Obama's ambitious -- and largely unfunded -- $1 billion plan to create 15 manufacturing centers is taking its first small steps in a northeast Ohio steel town, where the first of those centers is weighing research proposals submitted by teams of companies and universities.

Proposals for research that would advance 3-D printing technology, a technique that uses digital images of products to make physical versions of them, have been made to the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, or NAMII, based in Youngstown.

The institute was created in August with $30 million in federal funding and $40 million provided by companies and universities from Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and other states.

In his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, Mr. Obama said he would use executive authority to move ahead with launching three similar initiatives. Last year, he had proposed creating 15 research centers at a cost of $1 billion. Congress has not acted on the request.

Five federal agencies, led by the Defense Department, have committed $45 million in funding to the Youngstown venture, according to a White House press statement.

Each of the manufacturing centers would specialize in a specific type of manufacturing technology. By encouraging collaboration between companies and universities, the goal is to accelerate research and product development and revitalize the nation's manufacturing industry, one of Mr. Obama's priorities.

NAMII centers on 3-D printing technology, which has been hailed as the harbinger of the next industrial revolution.

Data from digital images is sent to a printer that emits plastic, metals or other materials into a box. What emerges is a physical version of the digital image. The technology makes it easier to test designs of new products and eliminates grinding, punching and other processes typically involved in making complex parts.

3-D printing has been the subject of intense interest among government officials eager to create well-paying manufacturing jobs and investors hoping to cash in on the next big thing.

That excitement registered last week when ExOne, a North Huntingdon 3-D printing company that is a NAMII member, sold stock to the public for the first time at $18 per share.

The stock jumped 47 percent in its first day of trading and closed Wednesday at $28.01, up 51 cents.

ExOne said that before expenses, it raised $98.7 million from the stock sale.

Carnegie Mellon, Robert Morris and Penn State are among the universities that are part of the Youngstown venture. Other corporate members include Kennametal, a Latrobe tool maker; Allegheny Technologies, a Pittsburgh specialty metals producer; and RTI International Metals, a Moon titanium producer.

University-corporate teams submitted their first research proposals to NAMII at the end of January, said Gary Fedder, director of CMU's Institute for Complex Engineered Systems.

He said companies offered cash, materials, personnel and equipment to fund their research, which would be matched by funds from the institute.

Mr. Fedder said one proposal CMU is involved with seeks to improve 3-D printing technology so that it can be used to manufacture higher precision parts.

Robert Morris is involved in two proposals, according to Arif Sirinterlikci, director of the school's engineering lab.

He said the university wants to partner with the University of Pittsburgh and two companies on research aimed at making it easier to repair metal parts used in the aerospace and energy industries. The other project involves the University of Akron and Timken, a Canton, Ohio, manufacturer and targets increasing the range of materials that can be used with 3-D printing.

NAMII expects to announce early next month which of the proposals it will fund, Mr. Fedder said.

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Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.


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