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White House looks to 3D printing with $200 million plan for military, energy manufacturing

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White House American Manufacturing logo (Credit: NCDMM News/NAMII/White House/Flickr)
White House American Manufacturing logo (Credit: NCDMM News/NAMII/White House/Flickr)

The White House is looking to 3D printing as a model to revitalize the American manufacturing industry. Oh, and to help design new weapons and equipement for the military. That's the basis of a new $200 million public-private initiative announced by the White House this morning, which will create three new advanced manufacturing centers around the country. The White House is opening a competitive bidding process to universities and companies to host these centers, but all three will be modeled after a 3D printing institute launched in Ohio late last year, also funded by the government.

Using digital databases to make 'complex weapon systems''

The new centers announced by the White House today have much different goals than the one in Ohio, though. Two of them will fall under the control of the US Defense Department. One of these centers will work on creating digital databases that can streamline the process of manufacturing "complex weapon systems" (a process known as the "digital thread"), while the other Defense-led institute will concentrate on developing new, stronger and lighter weight metals for the next generation of military vehicles and body armor. The third center that the White House announced today falls under the control of the Energy Department, and will focus on creating more efficient and smaller technology for electric vehicles, the power grid, and military power generators.

Aside from creating new military technology, the White House says that the centers will also produce benefits that can be used by the flagging US commercial manufacturing sector, which has suffered over the past 40 years as many manufacturing jobs have gone overseas. The President is also calling upon Congress to invest another $1 billion to fund even more of these types of centers, up to 15 in total, but it remains to be seen if lawmakers will bite. In the White House's dream, the new technology developed at these centers would quickly make its way to consumer devices and vehicles as well. There's still a long way to go before any of the three centers announced today are even up and running: today's announcement was just an open call to universities and companies around the country to enter a competitive bidding process that will choose where the centers are located. So for now at least, the plan is still being fabricated.