President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden visited plastics compounder Techmer PM in Clinton, Tenn., on Jan. 9. While they were there, they talked about polymer composites and 3-D printing.
The visit was part of a swing through the state to announce a new Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation Institute, aimed at developing lightweight composites needed for clean energy products including fuel-efficient and electric vehicles, wind turbines and hydrogen and natural gas storage tanks.
Obama and Biden got to check out a 3-D-printed carbon fiber Shelby Cobra, which made for a colorful photo opportunity. According to the White House blog, Obama said: "The reason we're here is because wherever Americans are doing big things that can help build our middle class and grow our economy and extend opportunity to everybody, I want to be here to lift it up and figure out how we can promote more of it."
Historically, manufacturing is an essential ingredient for building the U.S. middle class, he said.
"You punched in, you made something you were proud of — Made in America, shipped everywhere around the world — and as a consequence, you were able to take home a good paycheck, could support your family, had good benefits. And it was a bargain that involved more than just building things; it reflected the values that this country stood for.
Obama touted is record in helping the U.S. manufacturing sector to recover from the Great Recession.
"Manufacturing is actually in its best stretch of job creation since the 1990s," he said. "It's added about 786,000 jobs over the past 58 months. Manufacturing is actually growing faster than the rest of the economy."
On the composites hub, Obama said: "We're launching these hubs around the country, and the concept is simple: We bring businesses, research universities, community colleges, state, local and federal governments together, and we figure out, where are some key opportunities for manufacturing in the future, how do we get out in front of the curve, how do we make sure everybody is working together.
"And as a consequence, we're potentially able to get cutting-edge research and design to market faster, and businesses are intimately involved in the process of figuring out how these things can be applied in ways that are really going to boost the economy and, in some cases, create entirely new industries.
"So these hubs are working on everything from 3-D printing — the idea that you can have some software and put in some materials and something pops out that actually works — to flexible computer chips that can be woven into the fabric of your shirt."
If the composites effort is successful, it will create advanced lightweight composites that can be made more efficiently and more cost-effectively — and perhaps carbon-fiber-reinforced polymers that can be recycled more easily.
"We've got the most dynamic economy in the world and we've got the best business people in the world and the best universities in the world," Obama said. "Let's put them all together and make sure they're working to create more good jobs and more opportunity for the American people."