Sixteen awards announced today by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology will help build the core capabilities of centers affiliated with the Manufacturing Extension Partnership nationwide and, in turn, improve the services they offer to small and medium-sized manufacturers. In particular, the projects will provide training to MEP field engineers to help them diagnose a company's problems and develop solutions; develop programs to address workforce issues of small manufacturers; and improve field engineers' access to electronic data.
MEP-affiliated centers in 42 states and Puerto Rico work with small and medium-sized manufacturers to address many of the technology and business improvement challenges they face.
"Smaller manufacturers face many barriers to modernizing. One of the biggest barriers is finding information about changing technology, production techniques and business practices," said Kevin Carr, director of NIST's MEP. "These projects will better equip the MEP center field agents to assess and understand the needs of their manufacturer clients and then find solutions," said Carr.
The 16 awards are for projects in the following three areas:
Last December, NIST solicited proposals for projects in the three areas. Federal funding for these 16 awards is about $4.2 million over two years. The awards and funding levels announced today are contingent on negotiations of formal agreements between NIST and the proposing organizations. Summaries of the projects are attached.
MEP centers are locally run, non-profit organizations designed to help link sources of improved manufacturing technology and modern business practices with the small and mid-sized companies needing assistance. While each center tailors its services to meet the needs dictated by its location and manufacturing client base, some common services are offered by most extension centers. Broadly, these include helping manufacturers assess their current technology and business needs, define avenues for change and implement improvements. By partnering with other organizations, many centers also assist companies with quality management, workforce training, workplace organization, business systems, marketing or financial issues.
While most MEP affiliates have been providing services for only a year or two, results from earlier established centers indicate that MEP's network of manufacturing extension services is fostering significant improvements in manufacturing and business performance. According to a 1994 survey of 610 firms, anticipated benefits totaled $167 million, the cumulative result of sales increases and cost savings attributed to actions undertaken with technical assistance from MEP centers. Benefits per company included 5.6 jobs added or saved and $43,000 savings in labor and material costs.
A non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.