Automation Alley Program Distributes 3-D Printers for PPE, Operations

Massachusetts’ Markforged, creator of Digital Forge, a metal and carbon fiber additive manufacturing platform, has distributed its first wave of 3-D printers to manufacturers in Michigan as part of Automation Alley’s Project DIAMOnD.
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Markforged 3-D printer
Markforged has distributed its first wave of 3-D printers to manufacturers participating in Automation Alley’s Project DIAMOnD. Pictured is a Markforged 3-D printer. // Photo courtesy of Markforged

Massachusetts’ Markforged, creator of Digital Forge, a metal and carbon fiber additive manufacturing platform, has distributed its first wave of 3-D printers to manufacturers in Michigan as part of Automation Alley’s Project DIAMOnD.

The initiative is dedicated to helping manufacturers scale up their Industry 4.0 activity. More than 200 manufacturers have already received their printers and are ready to print personal protective equipment when necessary. They can also use the printers to create parts for their operations.

Project DIAMOnD is designed to help small and mid-sized Michigan manufacturers print PPE, filling a gap in the medical supply chain as COVID-19 continues. Each printer connects to a centralized blockchain enabled cloud operated by Automation Alley. The project is funded by a grant Automation Alley received from Oakland and Macomb counties, allowing for 300 applicants to receive printers.

“Traditionally, governments have maintained special networks dedicated to the distribution of information and goods during emergencies, but this will be the first response network capable of actually manufacturing tangible parts and objects on demand as needs arise,” says Michael Kelly, director of print system engineering at Markforged.

“From printing PPE to enabling mass supply chain resiliency, this initiative is showcasing the power of a cloud-connected, digital 3-3-D printing network. Our hope is that, through our contributions, manufacturers can find unique, effective ways to contribute to COVID-19 relief efforts and continue innovating with our printers for years to come.”

Along with Markforged’s 3-D printing platform, Automation Alley is using Microsoft’s Azure cloud technology.

“There is boundless potential for 3-D printing, and it’s starting to unfold in Michigan,” says Tom Kelly, executive director and CEO of Automation Alley. “With Project DIAMOnD, manufacturers in Michigan are setting the pace for what’s possible. At Automation Alley, we’re eager to direct this initiative and measure the impact it has on the production of health care equipment as well as other parts critical to the supply chain across multiple industries.”

A variety of manufacturers in the state applied for the printers, including Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers. Participants include HERCO Group, a diecast mold and equipment solutions provider; Accufacture, an automation manufacturing company; and Custom Valve Concepts, a liquid and gas product manufacturer for brands including Nestle, Citgo, and PepsiCo.

“Additive manufacturing was always on our minds,” says Michael Tor, associate engineer at Custom Valve Concepts. “After receiving this grant and talking with Markforged, that’s when our eyes just started opening up.”

Markforged was founded in 2013 and has about 300 employees worldwide.

Automation Alley is a World Economic Forum Advanced Manufacturing Hub and a nonprofit Industry 4.0 knowledge center. It works to facilitate public-private partnerships by connecting industry, education, and government.

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