3D Printing

What Can You Do With A 3D printer? How About 300 Of Them?

Pete DiSante, Automation Alley
October 5, 2021
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What Can You Do With A 3D printer? How About 300 Of Them?

The pandemic has hit us hard. I could list many negatives related to it, but you’ve all been hearing about them on the news for months. All of us have been impacted in some way because of it, even if it’s just that you’re now paying a dollar more for your favorite hamburger.

Economic As Well As Physical Health

The Federal Government has been bending over backwards to help us through the pandemic, even paying for development of a free vaccine to help mitigate the spread.. But they have also set aside funding for our economic recovery. The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of 2020 provided fast and direct economic assistance for American workers, families, small businesses, and industries. Realizing the opportunity, Automation Alley worked with Oakland and Macomb Counties to petition the government for relief funding for our local manufacturers. Many of these manufacturers faced reduced markets, worker shortages, and disrupted supply chains.

Along Came Project DIAMOnD

The ask for funding needed a plan. A plan that could actually stimulate recovery. Now, the philosophy that making it easier for manufacturers to do business will improve their bottom line is a no-brainer. But how to do that is the tricky part. Automation Alley has been an ardent proponent of Industry 4.0 technologies for many years and knows that application of these technologies is a sure way (and eventually will be the only way) that manufacturers will continue to be successful. So, a plan was put together. And the plan is called Project DIAMOnD, which stands for Distributed Independent and Agile Manufacturing On Demand.

Power In Numbers

The proposal went forth to the government to provide funding for 300 3D printers, to be distributed to qualifying manufacturers in the two counties. The printers would be put on a network and would be available for printing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) on demand for assisting the safety of medical personnel fighting the pandemic. The proposal was accepted, and the money made its way to the counties. Three hundred Markforged 3D printers have now found homes in a variety of manufacturers. These manufacturers are now free to use these machines for furthering their businesses in whatever way works for them. They all agree to keep their machines on the network for three years, and to make it available for printing PPE when required. But otherwise, the machine belongs to them.

What Can You Do With A 3D Printer?

Many of the manufacturers took off running with their newly granted equipment. Success stories are increasing every day. Some others have not even removed it from the box. Or have set it up but have nobody available to figure out how to work it or what to do with it. But Project DIAMOnD is still in its early stage. The true power of the project will be the business platform for utilizing all these printers. The proposed platform will use several high-tech applications for creating commerce within the network. The demand for additive manufacturing is high and is growing higher. There is an urgent need for manufacturers to understand and begin to adopt 3D printing practices. The risk they take in not doing so is going out of business.

Through the platform, even companies that just have their machine sitting unused in a corner will find that there is a demand for it to be used for printing jobs for others. And the platform will handle all the aspects of the commerce needed to make that happen. Prosperity will come not only from having a 3D printer, but from being a part of a network of 300printers. A network that can assure any customer that what they need can be printed in the quantities they require, available in a short amount of time and provided at a competitive price.

What Happens Next?

The Project DIAMOnD platform will be truly unique. Unlike other networking platforms, it will be wholly owned. It doesn’t have to answer to a corporate owner. Its governance will be handled by the manufacturers who are already part of the network. And it will grow. It is expected that within a fairly short time, the demand for 3D printing services will see substantial growth. Automation Alley intends to seek additional grant money for Michigan counties to expand project DIAMOnD. Expansion will include additional 3D printers, as well as other Industry 4.0 technologies for augmenting the network. Our goal is for Michigan to become a national center for 3D printing, and, fingers crossed, not primarily for printing PPE!

Pete DiSante, Automation Alley
Pete DiSante, Automation Alley

Pete DiSante serves as a project manager at Automation Alley. He started as a Controls Engineer at ANR Pipeline before moving to the US Army-TARDEC, where he was a member of the External Business Office. He retired from TARDEC in 2018.

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