A new report published today identifies and describes research and development priorities for the future of three critical, high-tech U.S. manufacturing areas – hydrogen energy technologies, nanomanufacturing, and intelligent and integrated manufacturing. The report, Manufacturing the Future: Federal Priorities for Manufacturing R&D, was prepared by the Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Manufacturing R&D of the National Science and Technology Council's (NSTC) Committee on Technology.
"Our objective was to focus on issues of national importance, and to identify manufacturing areas that have the potential to deliver major benefits to the economy," said David Stieren, executive secretary of the group that produced the report and technology deployment manager of the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership. "These benefits include creating new jobs, enhancing manufacturing competitiveness and making progress toward accomplishing major national goals," he said.
Competing successfully in today's fast-paced global community requires rapid innovation, research and production methods to cost-effectively bring products to market. The report describes the significance of each of the three critical manufacturing R&D areas, details the challenges essential for progress, discusses existing interagency collaborations and provides recommendations for future research.
The report cites these manufacturing areas as being important to U.S. economic and national security. It identifies these areas as potentially leveraging scientific and technological advances to transform knowledge and materials into valuable products. Much of this research falls under the American Competitiveness Initiative, a government-funded mandate to increase investments in R&D, education and entrepreneurship. These manufacturing areas also correspond to existing priorities established by the federal government through the President's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, the National Nanotechnology Initiative and the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development Program.
Technical staff members from NIST served as chair and executive secretary of the Interagency Working Group, and oversaw the drafting of the final report. The report is available online at www.manufacturing.gov.
The Interagency Working Group included representatives from 15 member departments, agencies and organizations in the federal government, including:
Department of Agriculture
Department of Commerce
Department of Defense
Department of Education
Department of Energy
Department of Health and Human Services
Department of Homeland Security
Department of Labor
Department of Transportation
Environmental Protection Agency
National Aeronautics and Space Administration
National Science Foundation
Small Business Administration
Office of Management and Budget
Office of Science and Technology Policy
Manufacturing the Future: Federal Priorities for Manufacturing R&D identifies these three critical high-tech U.S. manufacturing areas and the interdependencies between them as R&D priorities for the future.
Manufacturing R&D for Hydrogen Energy Technologies
In order to improve energy security and clean air, the U.S. government is committed to replace petroleum with alternative energy technologies including hydrogen to power cars and light trucks. Meeting this challenge requires developing low-cost, high-volume manufacturing processes to produce affordable and reliable fuel cell vehicle technology and to build and maintain a hydrogen fuel infrastructure. Other manufacturing challenges include standardizing components and systems design for production, overcoming the technical problems of delivering hydrogen and mass producing fuel cells, and developing high-volume storage tanks.
Nanotechnology is expected to be a critical driver of future economic growth, affecting potentially every industry from aerospace and energy to health care and agriculture. Nanomanufacturing encompasses industrial-scale production of materials, structures, devices and systems with nanoscale components whose unique properties derive from engineering at the nanoscale (roughly 1 to 100 nanometers or billionths of a meter). In order for nanomaterials to be mass produced reliably and affordably, scientists and engineers have to overcome hurdles relative to developing top-down processes (miniaturizing devices and structures to their smallest possible sizes) and bottom-up approaches (building nanostructures and nanodevices from the ground up by using tiny building blocks).
Intelligent and Integrated Manufacturing R&D
Information technology can reshape almost all features of manufacturing, from product development and design, through distribution and customer support. Intelligent and Integrated Manufacturing applies computer software, controls, sensors, networks and other information technology to the entire process. This includes using software to rapidly design and test new products, or linking "smart" supply chains to make sure there are always enough raw materials to build products and efficient methods to get them to customers on time. These computer-enhanced processes are central to creating a hydrogen-powered economy, improving national security, developing innovative real-world applications of nanotechnology and to other national goals for the future. Increasing computing power and the availability of inexpensive sensors and network devices opens the door to designing new processes to optimize capabilities, performance and value.
These three research sectors are also interdependent. For example, the design and cost-effective production of nanomaterials to store hydrogen may be critical to our country's transition away from an oil-dependent transportation system. Also, intelligent, flexible manufacturing may reduce the time and cost of incorporating nanoscale components into real world applications, according to the report. Finally, the three research sectors offer an opportunity to contribute to sustainable manufacturing by incorporating materials, processes, and systems that use energy and materials effectively and use environmentally preferable materials.