The Science of Digital Fabrication

One of President Obama’s top priorities is advanced manufacturing—the use of cutting-edge technologies to spur innovation in product development or manufacturing processes. As he said during his 2013 State of the Union address, President Obama wants to make America “a magnet for new jobs and manufacturing.”  That’s why his FY14 budget includes $2.9 billion for advanced manufacturing R&D, including $1 billion to launch a network of up to 15 manufacturing innovation institutes.

To advance this Presidential priority, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has been working closely with experts in industry and academia to identify advanced manufacturing technologies that could help create the industries and jobs of the future. 

On March 7, 2013, OSTP and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Bits and Atoms co-hosted a workshop at MIT on the science of digital fabrication— which could one day allow individuals to design and produce tangible objects on demand, wherever and whenever they need them. The purpose of the workshop was to gather representatives from academic institutions, businesses, non-profit organizations, and government agencies to document the state of the art today, and survey the roadmap for its future development.

Neil Gershenfeld, an MIT researcher, has said that we are on the cusp of a revolution in manufacturing that will be driven by an ability to “turn data into things and things into data.” These new capacities, he says, could ultimately be as important as the development of digital computing and communications. Workshop presentations made by a highly interdisciplinary community of researchers made clear that 3D printers are just the tip of the advanced manufacturing iceberg, noting increasing potential for the creation of:

  • Manufacturing processes for digital fabrication at different length-scales, from molecules to buildings;
  • 3-D “assemblers” that can build functional structures in the same way that complex proteins are assembled from amino acids;
  • Programmable strands of DNA that can serve as the “glue” for assembling materials and devices at the nanoscale; and
  • New software tools that can dramatically reduce the time required to design, build, and test complex manufactured products.

OSTP looks forward to working with the research community to help realize these exciting visions of the future of digital fabrication.

Learn more about the Nation’s Advanced Manufacturing efforts here.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at OSTP

Philip Rubin is Principal Assistant Director for Science and Assistant Director for Social, Behavioral, and Economic Sciences at OSTP

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