Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Transforming Manufacturing in Go Virginia Region 2: The Promises and Potentials of Additive Manufacturing


Additive Manufacturing (AM) represents one of our era's most significant technological advancements. Its genesis traces back to the 1980s when Dr. Hideo Kodama of Nagoya Municipal Industrial Research Institute published the concept of a rapid prototyping system, marking the conceptual birth of this transformative technology (Kodama, 1981). Charles Hull's invention of stereolithography in 1984 followed, making it possible to create 3D objects layer by layer from a digital file (Hull, 1986). The authors, first in-depth introduction to the technology was at General Electric. In 2016, GE acquired two AM companies for 1.4 billion to streamline and reduce product costs. Since then, the technology's various use cases have continued to expand.

The applications of AM span a wide range of sectors due to its inherent benefits. AM is notable for its ability to produce complex geometries that are otherwise difficult or impossible to create using traditional manufacturing processes. This quality allows for unprecedented flexibility in design and has significant implications for industries where customization and precision are key. Notable sectors include healthcare, aerospace, automotive, energy, and construction. AM can create personalized medical devices, implants, and prosthetics in healthcare. AM's capacity for producing lightweight yet complex structures offers a new paradigm in part design and production in aerospace and automotive.

Over the years, the technology has continuously evolved, with advancements in materials and techniques expanding its potential. Today, AM encompasses a multitude of techniques, including Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), each catering to different materials and applications.

AM offers many benefits to Region 2, the State, and our Nation

It empowers the creation of intricate parts that are otherwise challenging or impossible to produce through traditional means (Berman, 2012). For example, AM is capable of generating parts with complex internal structures or multi-material components.
  • AM promotes an on-demand production model, mitigating the cost and time associated with mass production and storage of excess inventory (Weller, Kleer, & Piller, 2015). As such, AM has the potential to significantly reduce the cost and logistical constraints of maintaining large inventories.
  • AM can offer a high level of customization, which is particularly relevant in industries such as healthcare that require personalized medical devices. Similarly, AM can be applied to consumer products, enabling the customization of items such as shoes and prosthetic limbs (Laplume, Petersen, & Pearce, 2016).
  • AM is already employed across various industries, including aerospace, automotive, healthcare, manufacturing, energy, and construction (Laplume et al., 2016). In the aerospace industry, for example, it produces complex engine components and airframe structures. In healthcare, it assists in creating medical devices like implants, prosthetics, and surgical instruments.
Other benefits of AM include reduced waste, improved efficiency, higher quality of parts, and increased flexibility (Weller et al., 2015). As AM technology matures, we can anticipate its continued expansion across a broader range of sectors, heralding a new manufacturing era.

Additive Manufacturing in Region 2

Leading companies such as Framatome and BWX Technologies (BWXT) have recognized the potential of AM, implementing it to enhance the safety and efficiency of nuclear reactors (Framatome, 2017; BWXT, 2019).

Framatome, a French-based company specializing in designing, producing, and maintaining nuclear reactors, has utilized AM in component production for several years. In 2017, the company installed the first 3D-printed fuel assembly into a commercial nuclear reactor, demonstrating the benefits of AM, including enhanced safety, efficiency, and cost reductions (Framatome, 2017). This fuel assembly was produced using selective laser melting (SLM), an AM process that facilitates the creation of complex, internally intricate components.

Similarly, BWXT, an American corporation focused on designing, producing, and servicing nuclear components, has embraced AM for various applications. The company's scope includes the creation of fuel assemblies, control rods, and safety systems. In 2019, BWXT announced the development of a novel 3D-printed fuel assembly resistant to radiation damage. This assembly is produced using electron beam melting (EBM), an AM process capable of creating durable, high-strength components (BWXT, 2019).

Framatome and BWXT are using AM to enhance nuclear reactor safety and efficiency. They invest in research and development to advance AM technologies and their applications. As AM technology evolves, its innovative applications within the nuclear industry will likely expand.

Another noteworthy company in additive manufacturing is MELD Manufacturing, based in Christiansburg, VA. MELD has a game-changing process that redefines the metal fabrication industry, offering many capabilities and overcoming the limitations posed by conventional fusion-based processes. At its core, MELD is an innovative technology that facilitates various applications, from additive manufacturing and metal joining to component repair, coating applications, and custom alloy and metal matrix composite billet fabrication.

The fundamental aspect of MELD technology presents a host of benefits. It contributes to high-quality output with reduced residual stresses and full-density materials, achieved with significantly lower energy requirements than its fusion-based counterparts. The nature of MELD also eliminates the risk of common issues associated with melt-based technologies, such as porosity and hot cracking. Furthermore, MELD is a single-step process that eliminates the necessity for time-consuming subsequent processes such as hot isostatic pressing (HIP) or sintering to improve the material quality, enhancing its efficiency.

Perhaps one of the most impressive traits of MELD is its capacity to print large-scale metal parts - a capability yet unseen in the metal additive market. This scalability leap is attributed to MELD's freedom from the constraints of small powder beds or expensive vacuum systems that traditionally limit other additive processes. The MELD process operates in an open atmosphere, demonstrating an impressive insensitivity to the operating environment or material surface condition. These characteristics position MELD as an efficient and feasible solution for real-world manufacturing applications.

The benefits of MELD technology extend even further to its impressive speed and flexibility in material selection. With the ability to deposit material at least ten times faster than fusion-based metal additive processes, MELD offers a significantly expedited production timeline. Moreover, unlike other additive technologies that may limit material choices to a handful of expensive proprietary alloys, MELD offers extensive flexibility. MELD can deposit various metal alloys, from aluminum to steel and nickel-based superalloys, ensuring high-quality output with the same machine and process.

The MELD process represents a promising leap forward in metal fabrication technology. MELD is well-positioned to revolutionize the sector and redefine our approach to metal manufacturing by providing superior quality, efficiency, and versatility in a real-world manufacturing context.

The Future of Additive Manufacturing

Looking forward, the promise of AM is vast. It is positioned to drive the fourth industrial revolution, radically reshaping manufacturing, supply chains, and consumption patterns (Weller, Kleer, & Piller, 2015). As the technology matures, it's expected to be more sustainable by minimizing waste and reducing the energy usage associated with production. The potential for localized production could also reduce the carbon footprint associated with the long-distance transportation of goods. In a more distant future, with developments in materials science, we could see the use of AM in producing smart materials and structures that can self-repair or adapt to their environment.

Whether through the creation of intricate components, the reduction of excess inventory, or the provision of highly personalized products, AM has demonstrated a wide range of capabilities. These already enhance diverse sectors, from aerospace and healthcare to construction and nuclear power. Companies like Framatome, BWXT, and MELD Manufacturing exemplify the transformative impact of AM technology. Their innovative work in nuclear reactor safety and directed energy deposition offer compelling case studies of AM's potential in Go Virginia Region 2.

Moreover, the AM revolution does not stop at the boundaries of these sectors. The inherent advantages of AM, such as reduced waste, improved efficiency, higher quality, and increased flexibility, suggest an inevitable expansion into other industries. As AM technologies continue to mature, it is reasonable to anticipate that their innovative applications will broaden, heralding a seismic shift in manufacturing processes.

Given these developments, it is clear that Region 2 of Virginia stands at the cusp of a manufacturing renaissance. Integrating AM technologies like those offered by Framatome, BWXT, and MELD Manufacturing within local industries presents an unprecedented opportunity for growth, economic development, and global competitiveness. Embracing this transformation will undoubtedly position Region 2 as a vanguard of this new manufacturing era.

This revolution in manufacturing extends beyond economic benefits, signifying a broader societal transformation. The promise of AM technology for increased personalization and sustainability has the potential to vastly improve the quality of life in Region 2 and beyond. As such, the rise of AM in Region 2 is not only a story of economic and technological advancement but also one of societal progress.


The rise of additive manufacturing in Region 2 of Virginia illuminates a future filled with promise and potential. It is a future where manufacturing is no longer defined by traditional limitations but instead characterized by innovation, flexibility, and precision. As this future unfolds, Region 2 stands poised not just to witness this revolution but to lead it, embodying the promises and potentials of additive manufacturing.


Berman, B. (2012). 3-D printing: The new industrial revolution. Business Horizons, 55(2), 155-162.

Campbell, T., Williams, C., Ivanova, O., & Garrett, B. (2011). Could 3D Printing Change the World? Technologies, Potential, and Implications of Additive Manufacturing. Atlantic Council.

Gebler, M., Uiterkamp, A. J. M. S., & Visser, C. (2014). A global sustainability perspective on 3D printing technologies. Energy Policy, 74, 158-167.

Gibson, I., Rosen, D. W., & Stucker, B. (2010). Additive manufacturing technologies. Springer.

Hull, C. (1986). U.S. Patent No. 4,575,330. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

Kodama, H. (1981). Automatic method for fabric

Laplume, A. O., Petersen, B., & Pearce, J. M. (2016). Global value chains from a 3D printing perspective. Journal of International Business Studies, 47(5), 595-609.

Lipson, H., & Kurman, M. (2013). Fabricated: The new world of 3D printing. Wiley.

Weller, C., Kleer, R., & Piller, F. T. (2015). Economic implications of 3D printing: Market structure models in light of additive manufacturing revisited. International Journal of Production Economics, 164, 43-56.

MELD Manufacturing. (n.d.). MELD technology. Retrieved from

BWXT. (2019). BWXT explores 3D printing for nuclear reactors. Retrieved from

Framatome. (2017). Framatome to install first 3D-printed fuel assembly. Retrieved from

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