Maryland Poised to be the Epicenter of Additive Manufacturing
Additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3-D printing, has garnered a lot of buzz lately, showcasing how we can create artificial human limbs and even food with this rapidly expanding technology. It’s also been referenced on popular sitcoms such as “The Big Bang Theory,” when the quirky scientists used a 3-D printer to create action figures that mimicked their individual likeness.
According to America Makes (www.AmericaMakes.us), a network of more than 100 companies, non-profit organizations, academic institutions and government agencies, and the flagship institute for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), “simply put, 3-D printing is the process of making something by adding material in successive layers. Much like an inkjet printer deposits tiny dots of ink to make a 2-D image, many 3-D printers build nearly any object imaginable by depositing tiny amounts of material, layer by layer. Just as the personal computer made computing technology available to everyone, the same is now happening with 3-D printing … in fact, today’s 3-D printers range from massive, expensive industrial equipment to $500 desktop models.”
However, besides the fun ways we can all use 3-D printing, how can this relatively new technology help create new business silos and help the manufacturing industry grow here in the United States?
In 1965, manufacturing accounted for 53 percent of the national economy, but by 1988, it accounted for 39 percent, and by 2004, manufacturing represented only 9 percent of the U.S. economy. In May 2013, President Barack Obama announced an aggressive effort to reverse the decline of U.S. manufacturing by – among other initiatives – partnering federal laboratories with local and regional businesses. Late last year, President Obama also announced more than $290 million in public-private investment for two additional Manufacturing Innovation Hub Competitions (eight institutes have been launched so far).
Here in Maryland, Gov. Martin O’Malley last year signed into law the creation of the Northeastern Maryland Additive Manufacturing Innovation Authority (NMAMIA) – a consortium of private businesses, educational institutions, government agencies and Aberdeen Proving Ground representatives that aims to capitalize on the region’s existing resources in additive manufacturing to encourage growth in the industry. At the center of this potential growth is the expertise, experience and equipment of the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), which has been at the forefront of computer aided design, 3-D printing and rapid prototyping for chemical and biological defense applications for two decades. Through an overarching Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) between NMAMIA and ECBC, potential partners across academia, industry and other federal organizations have access to the Center’s $50 million prototyping and additive manufacturing infrastructure, expertise and experience. “Leveraging the pioneering technologies of additive manufacturing is an asset for Northeastern Maryland,” says Harford County Executive Barry Glassman. “The partnership between the federal labs in our community and the regional businesses strengthens Harford’s role as Maryland’s new Center of Opportunity.”
In October, the NMAMIA – marketed under the name of RAMP MD – which is based in the Swan Creek Village Center in Havre de Grace, announced the formalized launch of two Joint Work Statements for Collaborative Research and Development Agreements with area manufacturing companies, supporting 3-D prototyping in cybersecurity and customized client solutions.
Rapid Prototyping and Manufacturing Technologies, LLC, (RPM Tech), based in Fallston, was one of the first companies to enter into the cooperative agreement with RAMP MD and ECBC. RPM Tech is combining its capabilities with the extensive prototyping and material capabilities at APG to enhance
RPM Tech’s capabilities to serve its customer base, which includes both commercial and military product applications. RPM Tech’s primary focus areas over the next three years include technical consulting in the prototyping and material areas, fabrication of complex and advanced prototype structures and smart structures, as well as end products for RPM Tech’s existing customer base. Quick turnaround manufacturing and complex geometries will be emphasized.
“RPM Tech is excited to extend its technical expertise through its new relationship with ECBC,” said Cyrus Etemad-Moghadam, president of RPM Tech, in a release announcing the cooperative agreement. “We look forward to learning from the Army’s expertise and augmenting the collaboration with RPM Tech’s commercial engineering knowhow.”
While many companies are focused on system engineering and software, RPM Tech decided to take a different path, focusing on hardware development and transitioning products to manufacturing for its customers. “The best software doesn’t work without hardware,” says Etemad-Moghadam, who started RPM Tech from his basement in 2006 with the goal to provide expertise in product development and manufacturing to businesses in need of custom hardware solutions for their applications. RPM Tech has since grown organically, moving to a facility in Fallston in Harford County and opening a design office in Westfield, N.Y., in addition to adding various prototyping capabilities and advanced technology knowledge to help speed up the design process and transition to production.
RPM Tech aims to be part of the substantial growth in manufacturing in the United States that is not only growing the economy but also keeping jobs here in America. According to a December 2014 report by The White House, “American manufacturing is more competitive than it has been in decades, growing nearly twice as fast as the economy overall and adding 764,000 jobs since February 2010. At the same time, businesses looking to move production to the United States consistently cite the skills of America’s workers, the most productive workforce in the world, as the reason for rooting jobs and investment here.”
RPM Tech, whose customers include international corporations, entrepreneurs, small businesses and inventors, with a customer base across the United States, Europe, Canada and South America, says it’s focused on its core competencies of electronics and mechanical engineering. Etemad-Moghadam adds that while the company is focused on electronics design and packaging, it often tackles complex and challenging mechanical systems. “The product range is extensive, with the company involved in the design of multifunction miniature tracking devices, medical diagnostics equipment, custom power sources, antennas, security and surveillance equipment, energy automation devices, renewables and communication devices,” he says. “On a typical day, RPM Tech’s staff works on various projects, utilizing agile technologies grounded in six sigma, often with compressed schedules for deliverables. RPM Tech is involved in innovative technologies such as selective plastic metallization (used in 3-D circuits, antennas, security), electro-active polymers (used in sensors, energy and actuation), as well as efficient power distribution techniques.”
Etemad-Moghadam says that the breadth of the product range and technologies originates from a passion for creation, innovation, problem solving and understanding the customer’s true needs – detailed product requirements and specifications, design planning and execution, and a realistic product roadmap. RPM Tech’s long-term goals include providing broader manufacturing capabilities in the United States to its customers. A key element of this future growth is the CRADA with NMAMIA, giving RPM Tech access to the U.S. Army’s ECBC. RPM Tech and ECBC have discussed innovative approaches to technical challenges encountered in hardware development and prototyping, and ECBC has produced prototypes for RPM Tech.
In addition to RPM Tech, Integrata Security, a cybersecurity firm based in Baltimore and seeking to manufacture in northeastern Maryland, also entered into a cooperative agreement via RAMP MD. “These initial agreements are a great first step that solidifies the process and paves the way for future agreements,” says Rick Decker, executive director of RAMP MD. “We took some time to ensure this agreement would protect the intellectual property of the third party. I believe this Authority will be the model for future public-private partnerships that will create jobs and manufacturing in the state of Maryland.”
Indeed, the process of additive manufacturing has created new job opportunities. RAMP MD is working with educators in Harford and Cecil counties to establish training and certification programs in order prepare the next generation of a trained, skilled workforce, which is needed to establish, set up and produce parts from a variety of equipment on the market. Recognizing that schools will need to adopt and adapt programs suited to the next-generation of 3-D printing equipment and capability, RAMP MD says it is focusing on establishing core skill sets for manufacturing and engineering companies who will need personnel trained to manage and run 3-D manufacturing equipment – engineers, designers, material scientists, machine operators, quality control/assurance, marketing, business management, logisticians, etc.
Each of ECBC’s additive manufacturing team members is cross trained to operate all of its 20 3-D printing platforms that are capable of making three-dimensional solid objects of nearly any shape from a digital model. These printers use any of 100 different types of materials, such as ceramic resin urethane and metals under a certified quality system. By utilizing ECBC, local businesses do not need to invest their own money into purchasing additive manufacturing equipment and expertise. After the businesses and ECBC produce an acceptable result, the requesting company or organization is responsible for beginning production and hiring people to perform that production.
“This is very exciting news for Maryland manufacturers,” says Carl Livesay, Manufacturing Director with Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development. “Congratulations to Rick Decker and RAMP MD for brokering a partnership agreement between Integrata Security, RPM Tech and the ECBC that will result in real manufacturing jobs.”
For more information about RAMP MD, visit www.apg-cssc.com and look under “spotlight.” I95