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A 3D printer used for manufacturing personal protective equipment. Photo: International Engineering & Technologies, Inc.

A 3D-printer platform is sending out machines to hundreds of manufacturers in Michigan as part of an effort to create a network that can print out personal protective equipment on demand.

Why it matters: Networked 3D printers can serve as a rapidly scalable backup system for PPE — and showcase the potential of a new method of manufacturing.

What's happening: In October, Automation Alley — Michigan's advanced manufacturing hub — launched Project DIAMOnD, an effort to create the world's largest 3D printer network.

  • The project aims to strengthen supply chains for PPE by distributing advanced 3D printers that could manufacture protective equipment like face shields on demand.
  • This week, Markforged — creator of the world’s largest metal and carbon fiber additive manufacturing platform — announced it sent 3D printers to more than 200 small and medium-sized manufacturers in the Wolverine State as part of the project.

How it works: "I liken it to a kind of emergency alert system" for manufacturing PPE on demand, says Michael Papish, chief evangelist at Markforged.

  • The advanced 3D printers operate on a network, so blueprints for PPE can be instantly sent out to manufacturers if the Michigan government feels a need to bolster supplies.
  • When the printers aren't needed for PPE, manufacturers can use them as they desire to bolster their own businesses.

The big picture: The advantage of networked 3D printers is that a decentralized group of manufacturers can quickly be enlisted to produce equipment on the spot, without worrying about knotty supply chains.

The bottom line: Just as software fixes can be rapidly iterated and pushed out to networked devices, connected 3D printers promises to bring the same flexibility "to making physical things," says Papish.

Go deeper

4 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's latest executive order: Buy American

President Joe R. Biden speaks about the economy before signing executive orders in the State Dining Room at the White House on Friday, Jan 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

President Joe Biden will continue his flurry of executive orders on Monday, signing a new directive to require the federal government to “buy American” for products and services.

Why it matters: The executive action is yet another attempt by Biden to accomplish goals administratively without waiting for the backing of Congress. The new order echoes Biden's $400 billion campaign pledge to increase government purchases of American goods.

Tech digs in for long domestic terror fight

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

With domestic extremist networks scrambling to regroup online, experts fear the next attack could come from a radicalized individual — much harder than coordinated mass events for law enforcement and platforms to detect or deter.

The big picture: Companies like Facebook and Twitter stepped up enforcement and their conversations with law enforcement ahead of Inauguration Day. But they'll be tested as the threat rises that impatient lone-wolf attackers will lash out.

The pandemic could be worsening childhood obesity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The 10-month long school closures and the coronavirus pandemic are expected to have a big impact on childhood obesity rates.

Why it matters: About one in five children are obese in the U.S. — an all-time high — with worsening obesity rates across income and racial and ethnic groups, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show.