Southwest Ohio aerospace industry leads pack for federal funds

A total $1.3 billion in federal money is available to spend on economic development across the nation, and a new designation puts Southwest Ohio at the front of the line to receive a slice.

A public-private partnership in an area spanning from Springfield to Northern Kentucky applied earlier this year for a federal program known as the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership and won.

The Southwestern Ohio Aerospace Region, as the collaboration is called, was one of 12 designees named nationwide.

With the new two-year designation, local organizations in the 27-county area get preferential treatment when applying for government funding to support the aerospace manufacturing industry.

Millions of dollars are at stake for the local economy.

“By having this and getting more federal resources, we’re hoping to increase the number of trained workers in the region, which will hopefully lead to more jobs in the area,” said John Owen, research director for Dayton Development Coalition.

The development coalition includes several businesses and government agencies in Springfield and Clark County.

Next steps are for local businesses, governments and institutions to take advantage of the federally recognized manufacturing community status, and seek out government funding, said Sam Stephens, senior development officer for Cincinnati.

Six priority areas have been identified for spending: workforce, supply chain, research and innovation, infrastructure and site development, international trade assistance, and capital access, according to the coalition.

The joint application, a first-of-its-kind partnership, flaunted the region’s higher-than-national-average concentration of jobs and businesses in the aerospace parts and products manufacturing sector.

“When we’re looking at how the … region is known nationally and internationally, this is a huge step toward linking our aviation and aerospace manufacturing expertise in the minds of companies,” Stephens said.

In fact, aerospace manufacturing employs about 10,000 workers in the Tristate Cincinnati metropolitan, more than any other manufacturing sector including automotive, according to Stephens.

Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is the state’s largest single-site employer with about 27,000 people, including many workers from Clark County.

“For people in the region interfacing with the federal government in any way related to aerospace or just general manufacturing, we want to know it,” Stephens said. “We want to understand the relationship and make sure the relationship takes advantage of the special status we now have.”

A committee has formed consisting of representatives from the four co-applicants — the city governments of Cincinnati and Dayton, and the private development agencies REDI Cincinnati and Dayton Development Coalition.

They are actively seeking organizations to apply for grants and have created a vetting process to decide which competing grant applications can list the new manufacturing designation to get bonus points, said Karsten Sommer, manager of SOAR for REDI Cincinnati. Federal grant applications are scored, he said.

Since being officially named a manufacturing hot spot in May, the aerospace corridor effort won its first grant. A consortium of 12 Ohio colleges, Ohio TechNet, landed a total $15 million workforce training grant in September. Cincinnati State Technical and Community College and Sinclair Community College each received $1 million to expand welding and advanced manufacturing programs respectively.

“We just need to as a community keep our eyes open for the training, infrastructure, research and development opportunities… so that we can leverage this designation to its full potential because there’s 11 other communities out there that are doing just that,” Sommer said.

“That’s probably the biggest challenge… reaching down to that individual grant writer or that individual professor or department head that’s seeking federal assistance,” he said.

Aerospace company at work

When GE Aviation opens next year its first additive manufacturing plant — one of the first to mass produce additive components — the factory floor will hold technology some 30 years in the making.

Additive, or 3-D manufacturing, is not new. The process creates solid objects from a digital file by printing thin layers of material one on top of another. Traditional manufacturing machines material away to get to the end object.

What’s new is a GE Aviation joint venture in 2016 will fly its first jet engine containing parts made by 3-D manufacturing.

However, GE did not develop 3-D on its own. The jet engine maker partnered with and later acquired locally-based Morris Technologies Inc., which traces its roots back to three business partners, a single used machine, and engineering software in 1994.

That year, Greg Morris and his brother Wendell Morris, sixth generation steel workers, left the family business. They partnered with Bill Noack to start Morris Technologies in Blue Ash to do rapid prototyping, now more commonly known as 3-D printing.

Morris did not invent the technology. But industry holds the team responsible for 3-D manufacturing innovations using metal, thus creating viable, end-user parts.

Initially, Morris Technologies worked with customers such as GE Aviation and Procter & Gamble to make prototypes, molds and test products, eventually relocating to bigger space in Sharonville.

“We could produce the components faster because we went right from the digital CAD file to growing the part,” Greg Morris said. “We were able to create complexity in the parts that you otherwise couldn’t get.”

In 2003, Morris Technologies introduced the first direct metal laser sintering machine to North America, allowing parts to be grown from advanced metal materials. It was purchased from German equipment manufacturer Electro Optical Systems. Two years later, Morris Technologies and EOS reached an agreement to introduce next generation equipment using the new alloy cobalt chromium.

“That was the turning point for us,” Morris said.

As capabilities grew, the business partners started in 2007 sister company Rapid Quality Manufacturing in West Chester Twp. for 3-D printing production.

Morris Technologies and Rapid Quality were acquired in 2012 by long-time customer, Evendale-based GE Aviation.

“We actually at the time of the acquisition had the largest additive metals capacity in the world, so we had the most number of machines and probably the most expertise in that area,” Morris said.

GE’s next commercial engine, LEAP, will have fuel nozzles made using the 3-D process.

An additive factory in Auburn, Ala., opens next year to produce the part for LEAP. Meanwhile, plans are to open a single-site Additive Development Center in West Chester Twp. for technology research and testing.

“The part that we are putting into the LEAP engine is a very big swing part. By that I mean this isn’t just a bracket, this isn’t just some mundane component. This is the fuel delivery component to the engine,” said Morris, now leader of additive technologies for GE Aviation.

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