Oakland County invests in 3D printing, wants to create largest network in the world

The future of manufacturing may lie in 3D printing and Oakland County is making a massive investment in the technology – with a desire to create the largest 3D printing network in the world.

As manufacturing is changing, a culture shift is coming – moving from traditional manufacturing to 3D printing. According to Forbes in 2021, the 3D printing sector reached $10.6 billion in revenue with a trajectory climbing.

"I was familiar with it as a technology. I was not familiar with how easy it was to utilize," said Tammy Packard, the owner of Unique Short Tree.

Packard took over the business just before the pandemic in 2020. She was familiar with 3D printing but it wasn't until she integrated the tech into her business that she discovered just how much it would change things.

"We take a look at it, we print it, we put it in to see if it fits. If it doesn't, you make the change and we can print it. You’re looking at hours or days not months or years,' Packard said. 

Packard got the 3D printer through Project Diamond, an Oakland County initiative that was born during the pandemic and was meant to accelerate digital transformation among Michigan manufacturers and strengthen supply chains for producing PPE. Now it has a new purpose – becoming the world's largest 3D printing network.

"Project Diamond phase 2 is the definition of making things in America," said Board of Commissioners Chair Dave Woodward. "Making certain that our manufacturing sector which built the middle class, is able to flourish regardless of the challenges of the economy on the horizon."

Oakland County and Automation Alley worked together and can now say another $15 million is being invested to help small and medium-sized manufacturers apply additive – or 3D printing -- to their manufacturing.

The money comes from the American Rescue Plan Act and the funding amounts to 250 printers. The county can purchase them and then provide to businesses in Oakland County, some of which are free or with some shared costs. 

The goal is to get 40% of small manufacturers in the county to get one.