The AM coalition calls for improvements to the US Congress bill on 3D printing of electronics

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The Additive Manufacturing Coalition (AM Coalition) has submitted an advisory letter to the US Congress on its recently approved COMPETES bill, which passed the Senate on February 4th.

The Creating Opportunities for Manufacturing, Pre-Eminence and Economic Strength (COMPETES) bill covers a wide range of regulatory areas, including mentions of semiconductor manufacturing, supply chain support, and education and human resource programs relevant to the additive manufacturing industry.

In response to the passage of the bill, the AM coalition has sent a letter to the bill’s supporter, Democratic Congressman Eddie Bernice Johnson, and senior Republican member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, Congressman Frank Lucas, asking for further support for improvements in two critical areas: human resources development for additive manufacturing and investments in micro and nano 3D printing of electronics.

Nano Dimension 3D Printed Electronics. Photo by Michael Petch.

Advances in 3D printed electronics

Although still in the early stages of commercialization, the field of 3D printed electronics is attracting growing interest from both R&D and investors. Recent innovators in this sector include NextFlex, a consortium dedicated to boosting the production of flexible hybrid electronics in the United States, which has just spent $17 million on projects focused on flexible electronics research and development, such as e.g.

Elsewhere, ETH spin-out Scrona AG has raised $9.6 million to develop high-resolution 3D printing for electronics, while Nano Dimension and sensor specialist HENSOLDT have co-founded the $6 million JAMES project , a designer community focused on advancing additively manufactured electronics (AMEs).

Recent advances have also been made in 3D printing technology for robotic electronics, irregularly shaped electronics, and 3D printing electronics under zero gravity conditions.

The image shown shows the 3D printing process used by a Nextflex member to manufacture FHE components.  Photo via Nextflex.
The 3D printing process used by a Nextflex member to manufacture FHE components. Photo via Nextflex.

Supporting Electronics AM

On April 1, the AM coalition sent an advisory letter to Congressman Johnson and Congressman Lucas asking for their support for improvements to the bill, particularly with regard to 3D printing of micro- and nanoelectronics.

The letter highlights the severe semiconductor shortages that emerged at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and calls on Congress to “fund not only traditional manufacturing technologies, but also the U.S. companies that can now print electrical circuits and chips.” Specifically, the AM Coalition has asked Congress to allocate at least five percent of domestic semiconductor production funds in the COMPETES bill to innovative manufacturing technologies, including 3D printing.

The letter demands: “While we support investment in the semiconductor industry in these bills, we caution against putting all our ‘eggs’ in the one basket of traditional manufacturing. A small investment in scaling these 3D printing technologies could fuel the growth of whole new industries in the US.”

The letter also notes that other countries will invest in technologies like 3D printing for electronics production, and if the US doesn’t follow suit, it could fall behind in implementing the technology.

Improving people development for AM

In its letter, the AM Coalition also asked Congress to support continued workforce development to enable broader adoption of additive manufacturing across all sectors of the US economy. The letter notes that the US currently lags “significantly” behind the workforce development efforts of Asia and Europe in this regard, and urges that enabling educational organizations to invest in such programs is “vital”.

The AM Coalition is calling for more funding for universities, community colleges and nonprofit training organizations to acquire industrial-scale 3D printers and post-processing systems and run more 3D printing-related programs nationwide.

“While we recognize that advanced manufacturing is broader than additive manufacturing, we believe it is critical that training organizations of any type can establish these programs without making equipment costs prohibitive,” the letter reads. The AM coalition signed the letter ending:

“We hope that with these additional provisions, the final law will not only encourage the expansion of science and technology and STEM programs, but reinvent the American economy by encouraging the growth of these critical areas.”

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Selected image shows Nano Dimension 3D Printed Electronics. Photo by Michael Petch.

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