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Leveraging Technology to Stimulate Business Growth
Accelerating opportunities to leverage and adopt technology is the key to long-term business growth and productivity. MEP will serve as the connection between manufacturers and the technology opportunities and solutions they require to grow and compete in the global marketplace. MEP, in partnership with other organizations, will develop the tools and services to bring innovative and affordable new product and process improvement opportunities adapted to the needs of manufacturers. Additionally, MEP will make available a range of product development and commercialization assistance services to help manufacturers rapidly move new product opportunities into production and out into the market.
Working with U.S. manufacturers to accelerate business growth is MEP’s most critical role now and into the future. MEP is doing this by providing a framework that makes possible manufacturers’ pursuit of new product development, market expansion and diversification, and increased sales and profitability. MEP’s strategic framework for assisting U.S. manufacturers enhances and broadens the program’s 20+ year track record of success in producing impacts that improve competitiveness through cost reduction and process efficiencies. Building upon these core MEP competencies in continuous improvement, MEP’s business growth framework adds four new focus areas: technology acceleration, sustainability, supply chain development, and workforce development. Recognizing that these are cross-cutting, multi-dimensional areas, MEP strives to develop the tools and services that will allow manufacturers to identify opportunities within and across these areas and expand capabilities for continuous improvement and increased profitability.
Technology Acceleration Strategy
As manufacturers develop new products, enhance existing products, strive to expand and diversify markets, develop and improve production and engineering systems and processes, and work to strengthen competitive positions within supply chains – technology in some shape or form is frequently a lynchpin enabler. As such, MEP is developing a multi-faceted approach to assist U.S. manufacturers’ ability to systematically identify and capitalize on opportunities to leverage technology toward the realization of their growth and competitiveness objectives.
MEP’s Technology Acceleration strategy has four principal components:
- Connecting manufacturer technology needs with laboratory technologies
- Technology Scouting
- Supplier Scouting
- Product Development and Commercialization Assistance
Each of these Technology Acceleration components addresses a different, yet interrelated facet of how technology can be leveraged by manufacturers to help enable the many and varied forms of growth and improved competitiveness they seek. MEP’s approach with these Technology Acceleration components is the development of a robust system of tools, services, and assistance opportunities that is flexible and accessible across the National MEP network. With such a system, the utility of Technology Acceleration is clear and real – and capable of being applied in response to nearly any manufacturer technology-based need or opportunity that might be encountered by MEP Centers and field staff in the course of client interactions.
Technology Scouting is an approach to connecting technology needs with developed technologies or technical capabilities that – unlike traditional “push-based” technology transfer – is pull-based. Technology Scouting starts with the unmet technology needs of manufacturing companies and searches outside normal channels to find solutions for those needs – typically from a wide variety of technology sources. Over the years, NIST MEP has been researching potential Technology Scouting tools and services that help manufacturers access and pull technologies from government laboratories, universities, and private sector sources.
Technology Scouting pilots have been conducted in partnership with RTI International. These pilots have included participation from five MEP centers and eight of their manufacturing clients. An additional round of pilots is planned and expected to begin soon. Thus far, two Technology Scouting workshops have been held, with additional workshops currently being planned for later in 2009. These workshops are intended to provide MEP Center staff with the training necessary for them to deliver Technology Scouting as a Growth Service offering to their Clients. MEP is also testing the efficacy of a “light” version of Technology Scouting that utilizes a “self-service” technology needs write-up approach with subsequent distribution to technology sources. This effort is intended to provide another Technology Scouting opportunity for clients, and possible service offering for MEP Centers, requiring fewer resources from both MEP Centers and client manufacturing companies.
Supplier Scouting In today’s economy, many U.S. manufacturers have production capabilities or capacities that are underutilized for any of a variety of possible reasons. These reasons include changes in the viability of the markets that manufacturers typically serve; excesses in capacity that are the positive byproduct of process improvements; the implementation of directed strategies oriented toward business growth; among others. At the same time, many original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and government agencies need capable and reliable manufacturers with particular production capabilities or readiness to supply parts and subassemblies as viable components of supply chains. These supply chains can be associated with the production and delivery of manufactured goods based upon mature technologies and within mature industries, and they can apply to emerging technologies and industries, as well.
In response to these supply chain dynamics, MEP is developing processes to bring business opportunities to U.S. manufacturers by understanding the supply needs of OEMs and government agencies. MEP is developing approaches to leverage MEP Center-based knowledge of local manufacturer capabilities on a National basis that will identify manufacturers’ production and technical capabilities, identify manufacturers’ capacity, and even pre-qualify supplier capabilities. Pilots are underway in 2009 with NIST MEP leading the approach: one is with the Defense Logistics Agency Defense Supply Center Columbus, and the other is with BAE Systems, Inc. NIST MEP is also planning pilots to scout for suppliers of components for alternative energy systems. All efforts are working closely with MEP Centers to understand and incorporate existing approaches into a scalable, replicable model for the National MEP system.
Product Development and Commercialization Assistance MEP is also developing and implementing other areas where services are needed by manufacturers to help facilitate their development and commercialization of products. Included among these areas are Lean Product Development, Intellectual Property (IP) Awareness and Management, and Financing Assistance.
In Lean Product Development, MEP is enhancing and implementing its proven set of tools for process improvement, communication, decision-making, and project execution that focuses on culture change within manufacturing companies and develops a waste-conscious, disciplined product development approach. In IP Awareness and Management, MEP has partnered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to develop and offer IP Basics training for MEP field staff to enable MEP practitioners to discuss and manage IP as a tangible asset with manufacturing companies – what it is, how to recognize it, how to protect it, and how to manage it. In Financing Assistance, NIST MEP is partnering with National organizations and other government agencies to develop and make available to MEP Centers guidelines that can help small companies understand their financing options with respect to the acquisition of resources needed for product development and commercialization processes.
Related: MEP & Clean Energy Alliance collaborate to commercialize innovative clean technologies
Cross-referrals between the incubator network serving clean energy tech companies, CEA and MEP will enable growth in early stage companies. Under the CEA collaboration with MEP, it is anticipated that as either organization encounters a company that could benefit from the services of the other, appropriate referrals will be made. In this way, existing national resources will be coordinated to improve the overall competitiveness of American manufacturing while advancing the development of clean energy capabilities and energy self-reliance.
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