December 5, 2013
Additive manufacturing, the technological innovation behind 3-D printing, has revolutionized the way we conceive of and build everything from electronic devices to jewelry to artificial organs.
It is not surprising that this field has enjoyed enormous economic returns, which are projected to grow over the coming decade. According to a recentindustry report prepared by Wohlers Associates, 3-D printing contributed to more than $2.2 billion in global industry in 2012 and is poised to grow to more than $6 billion by 2017.
While both public and private investments contributed to the development of this technology, the National Science Foundation (NSF) provided early funding and continues to provide support for additive manufacturing, totaling approximately $200 million in 2005 adjusted dollars from more than 600 grants awarded from 1986-2012.
Although a wide range of programs across NSF have supported this endeavor, greater than two-thirds of the awards and more than half of the agency's total financial support for additive manufacturing was provided by NSF's Directorate for Engineering, which promotes fundamental and transformative engineering research and education through a broad range of programs and funding mechanisms.
"Additive manufacturing is a great example of how early NSF support for high-risk research can ultimately lead to large-scale changes in a major industry," says Steve McKnight, director of the Engineering Directorate's division of Civil, Mechanical, and Manufacturing Innovation (CMMI).
What is additive manufacturing?
Compared to traditional manufacturing techniques, in which objects are carved out of a larger block of material or cast in molds and dies, additive manufacturing builds objects, layer by layer, according to precise design specifications.