Book-ended by the nation’s largest aircraft engine producers (General Electric, Raytheon Technologies), New England’s aerospace and defense manufacturing sector constitutes $42 billion in gross domestic product. Over 225,000 New Englanders are employed in this industry, with 60% working in the supply chain. The highest concentration of this work remains in Connecticut, with the total number of jobs supported by the aerospace and defense manufacturing sector at almost 135,000. The industry’s total contribution to the state’s GDP is 9.54%.
The Connecticut Business & Industry Association reports that Connecticut “shed 12,700 manufacturing jobs in March/April 2020, 8% of the pre-pandemic workforce, as the state lost a historic 292,400 jobs. Through September 2021, the manufacturing sector recovered only 38% of those jobs, while the state’s overall recovery rate is 70%.”
Specifically, bottlenecks within the metal casting sector have made it difficult for Connecticut’s mostly small aerospace suppliers (the median-sized manufacturer in Connecticut is 20-25 employees) to fulfill key low-volume, high-mix orders, exacerbating the economic stagnation referenced above.
The Applied Science and Technology Research Organization of America, or ASTRO America, is leading the implementation of a new initiative called AM Forward, which is working to transform America’s supply chains and help small suppliers add new capacity to overcome current bottlenecks. Adopting additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing technology, in small machine shops will enable suppliers to fill part orders on demand (within a month), cutting lead times by 90%. According to these small machine shops’ key customers, companies like GE Aviation, Honeywell Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Siemens Energy and Raytheon Technologies (who are also AM Forward committed partners), AM has the potential to increase demand for products — and thus revenue — substantially.
Through AM Forward, large manufacturers and the government are working together to help small- and medium-sized suppliers achieve the following: access to capital for AM equipment, extensive workforce training and accelerating processes for qualifying new production methods.
A piece of the implementation process for AM Forward is partnering with, and working with, local experts like the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology to provide on-site assessments of the readiness of small- and medium-sized businesses to adopt additive manufacturing and meet the criteria established by AM Forward’s end users and committed partners.
A commitment to AM Forward could produce staggering results for New England. According to a recent study by Kearney Management consulting, 3D printing is expected to triple its market value to more than $26 billion. Kearney Management’s analysis suggests that over the course of a decade, 3D printing could affect up to 42% of production in industrials, automotive, aerospace, consumer products, health care and medical devices. Kearney estimated the total economic value that could be on-shored into the United States using 3D printing is at least $600 billion creating 3 million to 5 million new jobs domestically.
The Connecticut congressional delegation understands what a strong economic driver AM presents and has been supportive of AM Forward. The five iconic American companies that appeared with President Joe Biden and launched AM Forward — GE Aviation, Honeywell Aerospace, Lockheed Martin, Siemens Energy and Raytheon Technologies — have also made strong commitments to this effort.
But there is more work to be done, specifically by the Biden administration in three areas: financing (how do companies access capital to purchase the technology?); qualification process (what measures do companies need to meet to be qualified to use additive manufacturing?); and workforce training and development. The Biden administration must bring the full weight of its agencies to the table to make this private-public partnership successful.
First, a commitment to funding that will allow the U.S. government to move this effort forward by helping seed AM Forward’s growth and provide sustainable infrastructure to build out an advanced technology ecosystem. According to the National Association of Manufacturers, “for every $1 spent in manufacturing, there is a total impact of $2.68 to the overall U.S. economy.”
While the additional business generated from expanded AM production capacity can be hard to estimate, based on my conversations with AM Forward members, potentially allowing suppliers to output AM-built parts could generate additional revenue of at least $1 million per year. If this occurred, 100 small machining companies would collectively be responsible for at least $100 million in additional gross production. Such a commitment by the federal government would ensure that AM could significantly benefit the New England economy, securing a stronger future for our local businesses and families.
Neal Orringer is president and founder of the Applied Science and Technology Research Organization of America (ASTRO America), a 501(c)(3) research institute and think tank dedicated to advancing the public interest through manufacturing technology and policy. Orringer previously served as senior manufacturing official at the U.S. Departments of Commerce and Defense.