Youngstown model for innovation catching on

WHEELING, W.Va. – President Barack Obama wants to launch at least three more manufacturing “hubs” to spur technology innovation in business, and local lawmakers want him to know the Ohio Valley has many vacant properties available for use.

Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wants to expand his National Network for Manufacturing Innovation project, based on the success of the pilot center in Youngstown. Plans to expand include placing hubs in other communities.

“Absolutely we’re looking at that” for West Virginia, said U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. “We think we have some prime locations that might be able to help now that he is wanting to expand.

“Now that they’ve had the success, I want to go look at what they’ve done in Youngstown – that’s close to us, as you know – and perhaps show some sites in West Virginia,” Manchin said. “Especially in the Wheeling area, there’s Wheeling-Pitt (offices) downtown. I’m telling you there are some prime targets. We will be doing everything we can to bring their attention to this.”

Nearly one year ago, Obama announced the formation of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, with up to 15 institutes for manufacturing innovation expected to be located around the country. The National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute was opened in August in Youngstown as the pilot center for the program.

The pilot center is focused on additive production, which is sometimes called 3-D printing. The process allows a three-dimensional, solid object of virtually any shape to be created layer by layer from a digital model.

A 3-D “printer” deposits thin layers of metals, plastics, ceramics or other materials precisely as directed by the digital model. It could have applications in industries such as defense, medical, aerospace, automotive and metals manufacturing. The process could allow parts to be customized on site rather than ordered and shipped to the site where they are needed.

“A once-shuttered warehouse is now a state-of-the art lab where new workers are mastering the 3-D printing that has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost everything,” Obama said. “There’s no reason this can’t happen in other towns.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has said he will introduce legislation to create more of the innovation manufacturing hubs. His measure would establish public-private institutes to help “bridge the gap between basic research and product development” while leveraging investment dollars.

King is a reporter with the Wheeling Intelligencer.