I think America’s most toxic trait is that it often looks forward without recognizing and processing the mistakes of the past. It’s something I relate to: In my efforts to always outdo myself, I’m adept at ignoring the red flags in my rear-view mirror; to stay on top of my game, oftentimes forward seems like the only viable option.
One thing that the Biden administration seems to want to move forward on is manufacturing policy. Among other initiatives, they’re approaching it through their AM Forward program, which they claim will “[improve] the competitiveness of America’s small-and-medium-sized manufacturers, creating and sustaining high-paying manufacturing jobs, and improving supply chain resilience through adoption of additive manufacturing.” At the heart of AM Forward is a partnership between large US manufacturers (companies like GE Aviation, Honeywell, and Northrop Grumman) and the US government (through the DoD, Department of Labor, NIST, and other agencies). The large manufacturers pledge to purchase 3D printed parts from smaller businesses, and the government in turn supports those smaller businesses with small loans, technical assistance, and skills training.
I am apprehensive about how AM Forward might play out. I worry that the feds won’t follow through on the support they’re promising these small businesses, and in the end they won’t be much better off than when they started. Many of the aerospace manufacturers involved with AM Forward have spent years vertically integrating their supply chains, and I’m skeptical that this program will convince them to change what appears to be a broader trend toward consolidation.
I’m still hopeful though. With government and industry support working in tandem, the next hype cycle for 3D printing could be beneficial for everyone – as new companies create new tech, create new jobs, and so on. So, with one eye on the road and the other checking our rearview, I can only hope that forward doesn’t lead us in a circle.
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Planning & Strategy.
- Hyperganic, a company that makes software to optimize the topology of parts, gained infamy at 3D printing trade shows this year. Their software uses algorithms to rapidly cycle through design iterations that mimic the complex, organic shapes found in nature. Check out their bell nozzle engine design – not only does it look like something out of a sci-fi movie, but they claim it’s 15-20% more efficient than the traditional form factor.
- Nikon, a heritage company famous for producing cameras, semiconductors, and displays, is making large moves into the 3D printing space. Nikon’s Next Generation project division has been busy the last two years making strategic investments into additive companies like Optisys, and Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies and acquiring SLM solutions.
Making & Manufacturing.
- A compelling piece that argues that manufacturing – as a career path – is in desperate need of a facelift to avoid the worst of “The Great Resignation.” It’s still associated with physically taxing, repetitive work even as digitization becomes the industry standard. While many technologies are rolling out, I’m most excited about exoskeletons that help those on the floor carry heavy loads.
- SpaceX recently hit a huge milestone: the ability to manufacture one Raptor engine every single day. The Super Heavy Booster needs thirty-three of these engines to power the first leg of its journey – meaning the production lines can go from zero to more than 7.7 million kg of thrust in a little over a month!
Maintenance, Repair & Operations.
The US Air Force awarded Optomec a $1.5 M contract to develop an additive repair process for titanium compressor rotors which is expected to bring repair costs down by 80%. Optomec uses directed energy deposition (DED), “an additive manufacturing process in which focused thermal energy is used to fuse materials by melting as they are being deposited.” It’s fascinating to watch the DED repair process – metal powder is sprayed onto the surface of a broken part, then melted with a laser beam.
Distribution & Logistics.
- I was excited to hear about new shipping routes opening up near the arctic, but at the steep cost of our ice caps shrinking, I don’t think it’s worth the reduced transit time.
- Imagine a vehicle that could equal or exceed the 100-ton payload capacity of the US Air Force’s C-17 cargo plane and could circle the globe in 90 minutes to airdrop goods to remote desinations. To achieve that performance, the vehicle would need to exit the atmosphere. A new military program by the US Air Force is underway with companies like Rocket Lab looking into point-to-point space transportation as the next frontier of global logistics.
Inspection, Testing & Analysis.
- NASA’s Stennis Space Center has been busy testing new engines for the space launch system, a part of the Artemis program. The mission will include the first woman and first person of color to land on the moon’s surface. And while we’re on the subject of adding color to space, I really hope the Stennis site gets renamed – senator John C. Stennis was an ardent supporter of racial segregation. That’s a pretty awful legacy to honor.
- Relativity Space, an American aerospace manufacturing company looking to join the race to Mars, completed a Mission Duty Cycle test for Stage 2 of their Terran 1. This hot fire test was a key milestone for the team’s engine development, proving that all key engine components (turbopumps, injector, chamber, igniters, etc.) can operate in a flight-like configuration. I’m excited about Relativity Space’s work because they’ve developed a great method for 3D printing rockets (which makes for incredible timelapses).
- A taste for space is catching on and space tourism is becoming more accessible for the top 1%. But all of that tourism comes at a high cost: CO2 emissions from a space flight are estimated to be between 50 and 100 times greater than the emissions generated per passenger on a long-haul airplane flight. In addition to the raw CO2 emissions, 3D atmospheric chemical models taken in 2019 found that soot particles emitted by rockets can hold up to 500 times more heat in the atmosphere than all other sources of soot combined.
- Here’s a good refresher on the difference between “i.e.” (that is) and “e.g.” (for example).
- In sci-fi movies, space is depicted as this dark, cold, and lonely void with out of body zero gravity experiences – but the risks and the danger are worth the reward of seeing the beauty that lies just beyond. I felt a similar stirring as I read the Unwritten Laws of Physics for Black Women where the author describes how difficult it is for black women to be accepted in predominantly white male graduate programs around the country. Facing microaggressions at every turn, the women in these programs were able to find & support one another across the deep voids of time and space – a truly inspiring story.
- A group of sex workers has created OnlyBans: a game that mimics OnlyFans to teach about the strict limitations for sex workers on content-hosting platforms.
Thanks as always to The Prepared’s Members for supporting The Prepared. Thanks to Alex Kingsbury for always being an inspiration, and Tim Simpson for highlighting and supporting diverse corners of academia. A very special thanks to my wife who brought me pints of Guinness while I used my obnoxiously loud mechanical keyboard to write this.
All My Lasers, SJ
p.s. - Take a mental health day if you need it. Remember: you are replaceable at work, but not at home. Always keep that in perspective.
p.p.s. - We care about inclusivity. Here’s what we’re doing about it.