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Zara Brunner

Innovation

Rethinking Manufacturing

Industry and government collaboration can foster advanced technologies and workforce development

Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2019 - 11:03

Recently, I got the chance to travel to Youngstown, Ohio. As I came into town, it struck me that Youngstown was like many other cities across America, including my hometown of Buffalo, New York. In its heyday, Youngstown was a center of manufacturing and steel production—industries that employed thousands of people and formed the backbone of the community. However, this area took it particularly hard when the economy changed and traditional factories closed, and it is still fighting to transform. 

Black Monday and deindustrialization

It’s important to delve into this region’s past to truly understand its current state. On Sept. 19, 1977, Youngstown and other towns in Mahoning and Trumball counties experienced what has since come to be known as “Black Monday in the Steel Valley.” That day, thousands of steel workers lost their jobs in an instant. It was the start of a series of other mill closings that swept across the region, and during the course of a decade, led to more than 40,000 people losing their jobs. Deindustrialization created a domino effect throughout the community. Grocery stores, retailers, and other businesses closed with the loss of that industrial foundation, and droves of people left the area in search of a better life. The city shrunk by half, dropping from about 150,000 then to 65,000 now.

But those who stayed wanted the history books to show that Youngstown didn’t “take it lying down.” They wanted people to know that their town has grit. As I walked and drove through the now shrunken city, I saw encouraging developments. Amidst the boarded-up windows there were growing signs of strength and hope. New opportunities. New businesses. Innovative new technologies that were bringing a different, productive, and energetic spirit to the town and inspiring young, educated people to stay, work, and build a life right where their families had raised them.


Learn more about the changes happening in Youngstown, Ohio, in this video, Rethinking Manufacturing.

Although there’s certainly more to be done, there’s a revitalization underway as the region has embraced the technology-based manufacturing that is advanced manufacturing. You can sense the hum of a newly built economic engine—an engine that’s bringing home a brighter future.  

At the center of this transformation is America Makes and a lot of passionate individuals throughout the community.

‘When America makes, America works’

America Makes is the first of 14 Manufacturing USA institutes, which were created during the past few years to revolutionize U.S. manufacturing through large-scale collaboration on advanced technologies and workforce development. America Makes focuses on additive manufacturing or 3D printing.  

Each institute is a public-private partnership that receives part of its startup funding from the federal government (the U.S. Department of Defense in America Makes’ case) through an open competition, and more than half of its funds from industry and the private sector in the form of memberships. The institutes build innovation ecosystems and position the country for leadership among ever-increasing global competition.

Additive manufacturing is a technology that deposits materials in layers to create lighter, stronger three-dimensional parts and systems with less waste, more design options, greater flexibility, less cost, and increased speed.

According to a recent market research report, the global additive manufacturing market is expected to grow more than 31 percent annually during 2018–2025. A Wohlers Associates report released in June 2018 revealed the additive manufacturing industry exceeded $7.3 billion in 2018. And additive manufacturing will continue to make a positive impact on manufacturing products, processes, and career options.  

To accelerate U.S. competitiveness in this industry, the America Makes innovation institute located in Youngstown is a unique, hands-on learning lab dedicated to advancing the technology, processes, materials, and knowledge of the additive manufacturing community. It also serves to educate and build a skilled U.S. workforce to capitalize on the capabilities and advantages of additive manufacturing and 3D printing.


Attendees at the America Makes annual meeting, dubbed MMX 2018. Credit: Z. Brunner

More than 350 America Makes members from across the nation gathered a few months ago for an annual meeting (dubbed MMX 2018) to discuss progress made and the road ahead. The level of collaboration among the participants was evident in the remarks of many speakers. Mayor Jamael Tito Brown of Youngstown talked about how the city of Youngstown, Youngstown State University, and the public-private partnerships fostered by America Makes are working together to help the city turn the corner. Jim Tressel, president of Youngstown State University, shared with the group that America Makes is building a team of excellence and bringing energy and confidence to the region.

During his keynote, U.S. Representative Tim Ryan said that the region’s recent technology focus was responsible for Youngstown being chosen as the location for America Makes over the other communities that were vying for it. He said they had come together as a region and were now building a technology infrastructure and ecosystem for a future in additive manufacturing.

America Makes presented its Distinguished Collaborator Award at the event. As one of its recipients eloquently noted, America Makes is Youngstown’s “path to hope.” It’s bringing the brightest minds in the field together to discuss applied R&D in additive manufacturing and how to build a strong, responsive, adaptive industrial base. By strengthening manufacturing in the region (and nationally), America Makes is giving a diverse group of skilled people career options and an opportunity to bring their town back to life.


Ashley Totin, project engineer at America Makes, teaches children about 3D modeling and printing. Credit: D. Stewart/NIST

The path ahead

There’s still a lot of work to do to figure out how to expand these new models of opportunity to more people. If the folks working on improving Youngstown have anything to say about it, they are writing the first chapter in America’s manufacturing comeback story. What we do now as a nation, as it relates to advanced manufacturing, has deep implications for future economic growth, energy efficiency, national security, and global competitiveness. Likewise, our actions will lay the foundation for the future that we build for our children, communities like Youngstown, the state of Ohio, and indeed, our country.

First published July 2, 2019, on the Taking Measure blog.

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About The Author

Zara Brunner’s picture

Zara Brunner

Zara Brunner is the communications director at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Office of Advanced Manufacturing (OAM).