A National Resource for Advanced Manufacturing

A National Resource for Advanced Manufacturing


The NIST Center for Automotive Lightweighting provides next-generation measurements and data to assist the auto industry in adopting new lightweight alloys into car bodies. ©Robert Rathe

Manufacturing has changed. Is changing.

If you happen upon a 1950's vintage telephone in an "antiques" shop, lay your little 4G smartphone next to it. That's roughly how far manufacturing has come.

Today's high-value manufactured products are built to tolerances that were inconceivable a half-century ago, using materials that were unheard of, employing processing technologies that wouldn't exist for decades. To thrive, a society that makes things, a manufacturing society, must keep pace. 

That's where NIST comes in. 

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) develops and delivers measurement tools, materials data, and other essential technical assistance that U.S. manufacturers need to out-innovate and out-perform increasingly able competitors. 

Following its century-old charge to pursue the determination of physical constants and the properties of materials, when such data are of great importance to scientific or manufacturing interests, NIST has made manufacturing research and support a top priority. 

About half of NIST's research either directly or indirectly supports U.S. manufacturing—in all its varieties, from chemical and food processing to biomanufacturing to aerospace, automotive, and medical devices.

NIST studies look at traditional technologies, but with an advanced-technology twist—such as "smart" machine tools and sensors and automotive "lightweighting." And they extend well into the frontier of future possibilities—such as self-assembled nanomaterials and products, three-dimensional printing, and next-generation biopharmaceuticals.

Driving Economic Growth

NIST nanofab

The NIST NanoFab provides researchers from industry, academia, and government with "a la carte" access to a comprehensive collection of state-of-the-art tools for nanofabrication and measurement. Credit: NIST Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology

Manufacturing plays a uniquely important role in the U.S. economy.

Manufacturing drives our ability to innovate, and innovation drives U.S. economic productivity and growth. Up to three-quarters of U.S. economic growth over the last six decades has been linked to innovation. 

U.S. manufacturers perform about 70 percent of private-sector research and development (R&D) and account for about two-thirds of U.S. patents issued annually. They are almost three times more likely to introduce a new or significantly improved product or service than service-sector companies. 

And, on average, for every two manufacturing jobs, slightly more than one job is generated elsewhere in the economy. As manufacturing grows more sophisticated and knowledge intensive, this employment multiplier effect is expected to increase.

But the United States plays in an increasingly tough league. Germany, Korea, and Japan top world rankings of manufacturing-sector R&D intensity, a critical indicator of future innovation. 

We cannot remain the world's engine of innovation without a thriving manufacturing sector.


From the digitization of equipment, processes, and organizations to three-dimensional printing (or additive manufacturing), to materials with custom-designed properties, a whole host of new design, production, and business capabilities are opening the way to new types of manufacturing—advanced manufacturing. Advanced manufacturing capabilities that are on the horizon and being pursued globally will have transformative, disruptive impacts—on industries and on economies.

NIST, the only federal science and technology agency with U.S. industry as its primary customer, concentrates on strengthening the shared platform of underpinning technical support services that will help U.S. manufacturers—new and established, small and large—master this transition.

NIST Programs

NIST has partnered with the U.S. manufacturing sector for more than a century. It provides the measurement tools—as well as other essential technical assistance—that existing U.S. manufacturers and aspiring start-ups need to invent, innovate, and produce—more rapidly and more efficiently than their competitors.

 Laboratories: NIST's six major laboratories—including two national user facilities—develop and supply test methods, measurement tools, and scientific data that are embedded in the processes, products, and services of nearly every U.S. manufacturing industry, as well as the nation's service sector. NIST's technical contributions support advances and applications in the smallest of technologies—nanoscale materials and devices—to the largest and most complex of human-made systems, from wide-bodied jets to globe-spanning supplier networks. 

  • The NIST Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) is the nation's only nanotechnology user facility established with a focus on commerce. CNST researchers and their collaborators are developing tools and know-how that will help manufacturers master all the steps from discovery to actual production of nanotechnology-based products.
  • Each year, more than 2,000 researchers from government, industry, and academia participate in research at the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR), one of the nation's premier facilities for studying the structure and properties of materials using neutron beams. The NCNR Center for High Resolution Neutron Scattering, operated with the National Science Foundation, can provide structural information on a length scale of 1 nanometer to 10 microns, the widest range accessible at any neutron research center in North America. The instruments are used by university, government, and industrial researchers in materials science, chemistry, biology, and condensed matter physics to investigate materials such as polymers, metals, ceramics, magnetic materials, porous media, fluids and gels, and biological molecules.
  • Reliable data are critical. Inaccurate materials data on new high-strength, lightweight alloys is a serious problem for U.S. automakers. Because of inadequate data, it took engineers at one company 10 months and 113 attempts—at a cost of millions of dollars—to make the tool die needed for a major body component to be made out of an advanced high-strength steel in a recent car model. Across the industry, the problem is estimated to cost $350 million per year. NIST metallurgists are developing next-generation measurement tools to fill these gaps in our industrial knowledge. 
  • In 2011, NIST provided more than 18,000 calibration tests and more than 33,000 Standard Reference Materials, mostly to U.S. companies requiring these definitive benchmarks of measurement accuracy.

NIST's research programs and user facility capabilities focus on manufacturing needs that are cross-cutting—such as process and enterprise interoperability or next-generation robotics. Tools that are useful to entire industries, even groups of industries.

NIST at a Glance
Headquartered in Gaithersburg, Md., with a campus in Boulder, Colo., NIST has a staff of 3,000 employees. In addition, our laboratories and user facilities host—on site and virtually—about 2,800 researchers from other organizations. NIST's Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership includes a network of affiliated centers with more than 1,300 field staff, distributed among all 50 states and Puerto Rico.

Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP): A federal-state partnership organized by NIST, the MEP national network of technical centers and field offices help small and medium-sized manufacturers navigate economic, technological, and business challenges. MEP connects these firms to public and private training, tools, and other resources essential for increasing innovation capabilities, expanding domestic and foreign markets, and improving productivity and overall competitiveness. 

MEP leverages more than $100 million of federal investment into a nearly $300 million program by partnering with state and local governments and the private sector to provide a wealth of expertise and resources to manufacturers.

The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program: A global aerospace company, a medical device manufacturer, and a food producer are among the diverse manufacturers that have used the Baldrige Criteria to improve their businesses and sustain world-class results—and win 26 Baldrige Awards.

Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office (AMNPO): Hosted by NIST, this new interagency office coordinates federal science and technology programs and facilitates public/private partnerships, all with the aim of accelerating technology development and helping U.S. manufacturers master and scale up processes for making new, innovative products. The AMNPO engages U.S. companies, universities, and other organizations, as well as state and local governments, in identifying opportunities for investments in R&D and collaborations that have the potential to transform U.S. manufacturing into a high-performance engine of innovation and job creation.

 The office leads a nationwide effort to design the proposed National Network for Manufacturing Innovation. Proposed in the President's fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget request to Congress, this nationwide network would consist of up to 15 regional Institutes for Manufacturing Innovation, funded by a one-time, $1 billion investment. 

A key objective is to encourage development and deployment of domestic manufacturing capabilities for producing new products stemming from U.S. discoveries and inventions.

AMNPO partners include the departments of Commerce, Energy, and Defense; NASA; the Small Business Administration; and the National Science Foundation.


Future Plans

The President's FY 2013 budget request for NIST includes several initiatives focused on overcoming manufacturing-related barriers to innovation. These include a cross-disciplinary, NIST-wide research program in Measurement Science for Advanced Manufacturing ($45 million), which targets nanomanufacturing, biomanufacturing, smart manufacturing, and advanced materials.

The proposed Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia Program ($21 million) would provide cost-shared funding to industry-led consortia to conduct precompetitive, long-range research aimed at translating discoveries, new ideas, and novel engineering approaches into new products and processes.

For more information: www.nist.gov/manufacturing-portal.cfm and www.manufacturing.gov.

August 2012
Created March 19, 2014, Updated September 21, 2016