US government supports advanced manufacturing – aluminium initiatives benefit and make further progress

US government supports advanced manufacturing – aluminium initiatives benefit and make further progress
Three-dimensional printing is part of the process known as additive manufacturing, in which 3D products are designed on a computer then printed out as layers of materials — for example, aluminium, other metals or plastics — to form one component (courtesy: Alcoa).

Set to come to the end of its second term in November, President Obama’s Administration recently highlighted America’s capacity for creativity and invention and how innovative progress over the past years has helped continue to make the national economy particularly strong and durable. Notably, several aluminium projects are playing a key role.

The President outlined ongoing efforts and initiatives at the third-annual SelectUSA Investment Summit held this summer in Washington, DC, before an audience of business leaders, economic development officials, and investors from around the world. He announced that the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) in the U.S. would lead the new Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, in partnership with the Department of Energy. The winning coalition, headquartered in Los Angeles, California brings together a consortium of around 200 partners from across academia, industry, and non-profits—in more than 30 states—to spur advances in greatly promising new technologies that can radically improve the efficiency of U.S. advanced manufacturing, and at the same time reducing the cost of associated technologies by half.

The Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute is the ninth manufacturing hub endorsed by the Obama Administration. At the Summit, the President also announced the launch of five new manufacturing hub competitions, which will invest nearly $800 million in combined federal and non-federal resources to support a broad raft of transformative manufacturing technologies. These range from collaborative robotics to revolutionising the ways materials, particularly including aluminium, can be reused and recycled. With these initiatives underway, the Administration is on track to meet the goal of creating a National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) of 15 operational institutes across the country before the end of the President’s term.

After a decade of decline from 2000 to 2010, the President informed that the U.S. manufacturing sector has added over 800,000 jobs since February 2010 and is now positioned more competitively for jobs and investment.

More specifically, according to recent Aluminium Association figures, the aluminium industry directly employs more than 161,000 workers in the USA and for each aluminium industry job, an additional 3.4 employment positions are created elsewhere in the economy. In total, nearly 713,000 U.S. jobs are supported by the production, processing and use of aluminium.

Further, the U.S. aluminium industry generates more than $75 billion a year in direct economic impact. Taking all suppliers and related business functions into account, the industry delivers some $186 billion in economic impact—more than 1 % of national GDP. This underscores the importance of the sector and the need for continued innovation to secure its future development.

The development and support of the Institute network will provide a further boost.

Partners in the initiative include local and state organisations, academic establishments and research institutes.

From industry, major companies include: Aerospace Corporation; Alcoa; Saint-Gobain; Southern California Edison; United States Steel Corporation, and United Technologies Research Center.

Partnering Industry Associations and Societies include the American Foundry Society; the Alliance to Save Energy; the American Council for An Energy Efficient Economy; the American Iron and Steel Institute, and the North American Die Casting Association.

Amongst the new institute topics now under competition, a selection that involves aluminium has been included:

Reducing Embodied Energy and Decreasing Emissions (REMADE) in Materials Manufacturing Institute. In collaboration with the Department of Energy, the Institute will focus on reducing the total lifetime use of energy in manufactured materials by developing new cradle-to-cradle technologies for the reuse, recycling, and re-manufacturing of man-made materials. U.S. manufacturing accounts for nearly a third of the nation’s total annual energy consumption, with much of that energy embodied in the physical products, including notably aluminium, made in manufacturing. New technologies to better re-purpose these materials could save U.S. manufacturers and the nation up to 1.6 quadrillion BTU of energy annually, equivalent to 280 million barrels of oil, or a month’s worth of the nation’s oil imports.

Embodied energy is that required by all processing associated with converting a material into a manufactured product, from mining to final delivery. When a material is landfilled, its related energy is lost along with the original material.

Additionally, the US Department of Commerce has launched the first “open topic” institute competition that is open to any topic proposed by industry not already addressed by a manufacturing innovation institute. At least one institute will be awarded using FY2016 funds, and one or more will be awarded subject to the availability of additional funds. Industries are invited to propose technology areas identified by leading manufacturers as critical to the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing and there are many potential candidates from the aluminium industry.

Each of the now nine institutes is part of a growing innovation network dedicated to maintaining the U.S. at the leading edge of technological innovation and next-generation advanced manufacturing. Already these institutes are having an impact – attracting funding and investments, creating jobs and realising advanced tech products, which all provide boosts for U.S. Manufacturing: Again aluminium-related initiatives feature strongly.


Lightweighting focus

Side part of the gray semi truck with fuel tanks made of stainless steel and aluminum footrest in perspective against the background of blurred moving semi truck and a number of different big rig trucks, headlights illuminated a moving truck with a trailer.
Lightweighting with aluminium parts results in better mileage and cleaner air for commercial vehicles, according to the Aluminum Association (courtesy: the Aluminum Association)

Using next-generation metals manufacturing techniques, Lightweight Innovations for Tomorrow (LIFT), the Detroit, Michigan institute focused on lightweight metals, has successfully reduced the weight of core metal parts used in cars and trucks by 40 %, improving fuel efficiency and making cost savings for consumers at the pump. In addition, LIFT has introduced education and training programs in 22 states to train employees on the use of lightweight metals. This summer, 38 companies hosted students in paid manufacturing internships in partnership with LIFT. Industry plays the central role in LIFT, identifying the priorities for technology with strong guidance from Navy Program Executive Offices and other appropriate government agencies.

The technical approach is based on systems engineering principles, which enable substantial compression of the time required to go from idea to product through integration of the product value chain from primary manufacturing processes with the other elements of the supply chain, such as design, customisation and after-sales support.

LIFT provides the commercial and military sectors with innovative solutions for lightweight subsystem design, component-level manufacturing, joining, and assembly processes and quality control methods, such as distortion-control during joining and heat-treatment. These lightweighting solutions involve the development of cutting-edge predictive capabilities and standardised certification methods to enable accurate knowledge of microstructure and damage evolution and performance through physics-based models and advanced interrogation tools.


3D printing

America Makes – the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute based in Youngstown, Ohio has attracted hundreds of millions of dollars in new manufacturing investment to its region, including helping to attract GE’s new $32 million global 3D printing hub, and spurring Alcoa to invest $60 million in its New Kensington, Pensylvania facilities, both of which will benefit from proximity to America Makes and its expertise in 3D printing with metal powders.

Alcoa’s product development costs could be 25 % lower than using traditional processes. 3D modelling allows the company to quickly design new variants of complex products that was not possible with traditional casting/forming process technologies (courtesy: Alcoa)

Using a process called selective laser melting or sintering, for example, the metal powder is directly melted and solidified, resulting in a solid alloy and a strong, homogeneous, high-tolerance yet light product, in shapes and designs that are impossible to produce with traditional manufacturing methods.

Due to its material properties, notably its high strength to weight ratio, 3D printed aluminium parts provide ideal solutions for designers’ applications across a range of industries – especially automotive and aerospace.

In addition, together with Deloitte and other partners, America Makes has devised a free online course on the fundamentals of 3D printing for businesses. Over the last year, over 14,000 business leaders have taken this course to learn what 3D printing can do for their operations.


Ken Stanford gained a B.Met. in Metallurgy and Materials Science from the University of Sheffield and an M.Sc. In Science & Technology Policy from the University of Manchester, UK.

Formerly Group Managing Editor and Technical Director at DMG World Media in the UK, responsible for editorial in publications including Aluminium International Today, and also the ALUMINIUM series of events, including in Germany and the USA. Particular industry interests centre on sustainability and environmental issues, new technologies, innovations and applications.