Small and medium-sized manufacturers soon will find it easier to resolve their information technology needs through a network of resources being established for field agents of the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a program of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Field agents at MEP centers frequently receive requests from their small and medium-sized manufacturing clients for assistance in information technology areas relating to the manufacturing environment, such as material resource planning, computer-aided design and manufacturing, electronic commerce and electronic data interchange.
Led by the Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership in Orem, Utah, a network of MEP affiliates with expertise in a particular area of information technology for manufacturing is being established. The network will help field agents at MEP-affiliated centers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico solve smaller manufacturers' information technology-related problems, help clients in their selection of manufacturing-related software and provide a process to keep centers up-to-date on new developments in information technology. Federal funding from NIST to develop this network of resources totals $500,000.
Through sites on the "MEP Source," MEP's World Wide Web site, MEP field agents will be able to find information on a particular area of information technology and ask questions of technical experts at the MEP centers. In addition, centers will conduct seminars and training and demonstrate manufacturing information technology products for field agents.
With expertise and experience in a variety of information technology areas, the Georgia Manufacturing Extension Alliance in Atlanta and the Great Lakes Manufacturing Technology Center in Cleveland will act as technical consultants to the other centers.
Managed by the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology, the MEP is a nationwide system of services and support for smaller manufacturers giving them unprecedented access to new technologies, resources and expertise. According to a 1995 survey, 548 small manufacturers reported the following improvements or changes to their business performance as a result of assistance from MEP centers: 586 jobs created, 822 jobs retained, almost $21 million in higher sales, $4.4 million in labor and material cost savings, almost $12 million in capital investment and $8.1 million in lower inventory.
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.