June 7, 2023

DEVENS, Mass., Sept. 21 (Reuters) – The giant machines that make metal parts on this factory floor don’t bang or make any of the other noises normally associated with heavy-duty manufacturing.

They hum.

“It sounds like a data center here,” said John Hart, co-founder of VulcanForms, a start-up 3D printing company that conducts research at nearby MIT and offers a glimpse into how Biden could hope for government Reshape the American industrial economy.

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VulcanForms, which recently raised $355 million in venture capital, exemplifies the type of manufacturing that needs to thrive to achieve this ambition – cutting edge, clean, futuristic.

A wave of government moves, including billions of dollars earmarked for semiconductor factories and other advanced technologies, has raised the profile of the factory sector in ways not long ago thought possible. Some argue that the US is gearing up for a manufacturing renaissance, thanks to the emerging de facto industrial policy, a method of economic development widely used in many parts of the world, but seeing it in freelance marketers The U.S. is largely unstoppable by picking winners and losers for a long time.

Now, after Donald Trump as their leader and his unapologetically “America First” views, even many Republicans long opposed to this “centrally planned” strategy are putting their Hats are thrown into the circle.

Fierce partisanship has made many of them critical of Biden’s evolving approach, but since Trump’s appearance on the scene, they have embraced their own iterations, such as for Foxconn’s faltering high-tech in Wisconsin. Factories provide millions in public funding.

VulcanForms builds metal parts by layering and fusing materials together, rather than being cut from a metal block or stamped in a metal foundry.

Hence the quiet production workshop. Each of the 10 machines lined up at the VulcanForms factory funnel 150 individual laser beams into a sealed box, where a mechanical gantry sweeps back and forth at high speed, laying down layers no thicker than a human hair while forming parts. The factory makes everything from medical implants and gun suppressors to tire molds and computer cooling units. VulcanForms supplies parts for more than a dozen defense projects, including the F3 Joint Strike Fighter.

Greg Reichow, a former Tesla chief of manufacturing and general partner at Eclipse Ventures, the private equity firm that invested in VulcanForms, said such a factory should help avoid the supply chain shock seen over the past two years, when many manufacturing Businesses are struggling to get parts from overseas factories during the pandemic.

“You can make phone parts one day and aerospace parts the next, so that’s a huge increase in manufacturing efficiency and speed,” Reichow said.

piecemeal policy

To be sure, the U.S. approach to supporting industries like additive manufacturing is a far cry from the sweeping policies of competitors like China. U.S. policy remains more fragmented — targeting funds that could easily be lost under future administrations — and weighed down by the expectations of U.S. private-sector investors. U.S. investors typically demand higher returns on investment than their peers in other parts of the world, limiting the extent to which even generous government subsidies can guide decisions on new plants.

The Biden administration announced in May an initiative with five large manufacturers, including Honeywell International and Raytheon Technologies, to encourage the companies’ small and midsize suppliers to use additive technology. The program, known as Additive Manufacturing Forward, is voluntary and includes commitments from major companies to help train workers at their supplier companies in the new technology.

Additive manufacturing is in line with the government’s commitment to promoting “green” industries, as the technology can cut material costs by 90 percent and cut energy use in half.

But it’s still a relatively narrow section. Additive manufacturing was once considered too slow, too expensive or too imprecise for full-scale production in factories. But as technology has advanced, more and more companies are using it to make finished parts. For example, General Electric uses 3D printers to make fuel nozzles that go into Airbus and Boeing jet engines.

According to a study by market research and consulting firm Grand View Research, the North American 3D printing market is estimated at $3.1 billion, but is expected to grow by nearly 20 percent annually for the remainder of this decade.

VulcanForms grew out of a 2013 MIT graduate course in additive manufacturing, taught by Hart, of which the company’s CEO, Martin Feldman, was a student. Feldman said GE’s announcement about making the nozzle is one of the reasons he believes the technology is about to take a leap forward.

VulcanForms is unique among 3D printing companies in that it builds its own proprietary machines – which it doesn’t sell to other producers – and uses them to make parts for customers.

“Making parts is much better than selling machines,” Hart said, adding that by outsourcing production to VulcanForms, customers can gain the benefits of 3D printing without having to invest in new technology and hire people skilled in unfamiliar machines.

The company is growing rapidly and plans to double the number of 3D printers at the Devens factory by the end of this year.

The company also recently purchased a nearby machining shop that uses traditional machines to make metal parts — recognizing that many of the parts customers request will require processing beyond 3D printing, such as polishing finished parts.

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Reporting by Timothy Aeppel; Editing by Dan Burns and Andrea Ricci

Our standard: Thomson Reuters fiduciary principles.

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