3D Printing Provides Vibrant Opportunities for American Manufacturing

By Michele Nash-Hoff

The 3D printing industry has experienced consistent and stable growth over the past decade, disrupting multiple industries. 3D printing and other additive manufacturing processes have made huge advancements in technology over the last several years and are playing a key role in reshoring mass production for companies in the USA. Constant improvements to materials and processes in 3D printing are being developed nearly on a daily basis.


Among the many benefits that 3D printing can offer are:


  • Reduce warehousing/inventory - as many parts as needed can be ordered in a much shorter time frame, saving not only time, but large inventory purchases and overseas shipping costs.
  • Agility - 3D printing allows design iterations and new prototypes to be made in mere hours and this allows companies to respond more quickly to market changes.
  • Eliminate material waste – plastic waste for injection molding can be recycled but not reused during production run.
  • Mitigate mass production risk – eliminates need to purchase large volume of parts to get cheaper price and reduces risk of having parts become obsolete before they are used.
  • Consolidate parts and assemblies into lower part count components


To find out more information about the latest trends I interviewed people at three companies.  The first was Melanie Lang, President of Formalloy, a company I mentored in 2017 when I was a mentor for CONNECT’s Springboard Program.


FormAlloy was founded in 2016 by CEO Melanie and her husband Jeff Riemann (CTO).  Both came out of the Aerospace and Heavy Industries and had proven expertise and leadership in machine design and engineering.


Formalloy manufactures two models of 3D printing of metals: the FormAlloy X & L-Series Directed Energy Deposition (DED) systems, which feature closed-loop control, variable-wavelength lasers. The company also offers the FormAlloy AX - Metal Deposition Head designed for robotic systems, manufacturing production lines and retrofits, the FormAlloy PF and ADF powder feeders for gradient or bi-metallic structures, and the FormAlloy DEDSmart software that enables the user to record all build parameter data that can be utilized post-build to analyze the component and verify the build quality.

Melanie told me that they exhibited at the IMTS show, held September 12-17 in Chicago. Her company was featured in the article “See Digital Manufacturing Data in Real-Time” written by Stephanie Hendrixson, Executive Editor, Additive Manufacturing.  Hendrixson wrote, “Formalloy showcased its DEDSmart capability, which displays and captures build data. Prints can be monitored in real time, and the resulting build data can be exported as a CSV file for analysis or visualized with built-in tools, such as DEDSmart Vizualize…Traceability becomes the utmost priority when dealing with highly regulated industries, and as a digital manufacturing process, additive manufacturing offers a potential opportunity: the ability to record data about each build in real-time, which can be used for quality control, part validation and process improvement

“Having access to the full set of build data, and the ability to control the inputs is really groundbreaking for metal AM, as many companies have closed off the controller and/or data,” says company founder and CEO Melanie Lang. “Our view is that we must have open access to data in order to build trust into the parts and be able to use the data for part certification.”

“Metal 3D printer supplier Formalloy has seen its powder-based directed energy deposition (DED) technology applied to produce parts for aerospace, oil and gas, defense and beyond..

 Next, I interviewed Spencer Loveless of Merit3D. Merit3D is a sister company of Dustless Technologies, located in the rural town of Price, Utah.  Spencer said, “Dustless is a family company. We've been around for 40 years, and my dad invented a vacuum for taking ashes out of wood stoves that evolved to a wet/dry vacuum. This evolved into different dust collection attachments for tools. We make attachments for jackhammers, attachments for grinders, and SKIL saws, and reciprocating saws, as well as many other products used by manufacturers. In the past, most of our products were made by injection molding, which has been around for 100 years and is a very tried and proven technology. One of the drawbacks that we saw with injection molding was the lack of agility to go to market very, very quickly.”


He said, “We were making most of our polymer components through injection molding, mostly through suppliers in China and were basically focusing on the design and the final assembly at our facility. Almost every time we started to produce a new product, we saw changes that we could make to improve the product, but it was too expensive to change the tooling.”


He explained, “We decided to look into 3D printing and we spent a lot of time researching 3D printing equipment and testing different materials before we settled on a couple of different systems. We needed a product that had properties and qualities of that of ABS and Nylon injection molded parts. We settled on a few solution from Adaptive3D and Photocentric. Both companies had great solutions for ABS like and rubber like materials. We needed 3D printable materials to simulate molded rubber and molded nylon and settled on using some new technologies and developments.


We spun off Merit3D as a sister company, to make 3D printed parts for our vacuum products and to help other manufacturers ramp up with production 3D printing.  In fact, we have had so much demand for our 3D printing that so far, it's pretty much been limited to other companies in Utah.  One of our customers is Phone Skope, and we can print thousands of phone cases in a day.


He concluded, “We are very excited to see how manufacturing is changing. No longer are companies required to spend a lot of money up front for expensive tools or molds. New technologies are allowing us to mass produce parts at scale and bring manufacturing back to America. Merit3D is a game changer for small to medium businesses to advance their products very quickly”


Lastly, I interviewed Dan Searle, Sr. Account Executive for Stratasys Direct Manufacturing, currently working out of their facility in Tucson, AZ.  I’ve known Dan since 2012 when he was Business Development Manager for Solid Concepts, which was acquired by Stratasys in 2014. 


Stratasys Direct Manufacturing is the parts provider branch of Stratasys. They produce 3D printed parts for customers in eight different additive technologies including metals as well as three conventional manufacturing technologies. Stratasys Direct has over three decades of experience with 3D printing and has been at the forefront of using 3D printing in production applications in different industries but primarily in Aerospace.  With six manufacturing facilities, a world class quality control system ranging from file interrogation, material verification to quality control inspections and more they manage quality and mitigate risk at every step of the product life cycle. They now have nine locations in the U.S. for direct manufacturing and offer over 90 different materials including engineering grade polymers and metals in additive.


Dan said, “Stratasys Direct pioneered aerospace production in additive manufacturing in 2006 and have worked with companies like Airbus, Bell, Boeing, Boom Aerospace, General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, and Northrop Grumman. We have the largest fleet of industrial 3D printers in north America and unparalleled expertise in additive manufacturing that allows us to harness the power 3D Printing in end use part production. One of the advantages of 3D printing is reducing the number of components in an assembly.  For example, one assembly for the Atlas V rocket was reduced from 140 tradition parts to 16 FDM parts for a costs savings of 57% and 89% reduction in parts. Besides interior and cabin parts, we now make flight worthy parts such as air intake plenums and manifolds.”


Dan concluded, “Stratasys Direct manufacturing has seen AM heavily adopted in the Aerospace industry. It is used for functional prototypes, tooling support and end use flight hardware. For one OEM customer we have printed over 128,400 flight parts over the last 6 years. We are now seeing customers come to us to print flight critical components with AM.”


These companies are excellent examples of the vibrant opportunities now available in American manufacturing.  They show the feasibility of transforming the prevailing worldview of American manufacturing from “inevitable decline” to one of “vibrant opportunity” that is the vision of the non-profit which I co-founded with Doug Berger — Industry Reimagined 2030. Our goal of having an additional 50,000 world class manufacturers by 2030 is achievable with the adoption of 3D/additive manufacturing technologies and Industry 4.0 technologies as well as reshoring of manufacturing from offshore to America.