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Making Manufacturing a National Priority

Thank you for the opportunity to address NACFAM. In the next few minutes I'd like to discuss:

  • How the American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI) provides opportunities to strengthen NIST's research that directly impacts the manufacturing community;

  • How the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory (MEL) and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) are evolving to maintain relevance to manufacturers in this hyper-competitive global market; and

  • How NIST is taking a leadership role in coordinating efforts across the Federal Government that support manufacturing.

If you can't measure it – you can't control it. And if you can't control it – you can't reliably manufacture it. This is an old adage – but it is even truer today than ever before.

With advances in nanotechnology, biosciences, and information technologies – the world may literally be transformed.

This century will, in fact, be defined by new technologies that fundamentally change the products and services available, the way they are manufactured and provided, and the impact on our quality of life. Nanotechnology alone is expected to become a $1 – 2 trillion /year enterprise within a decade – impacting up to 15% of all manufactured goods.

The NIST Laboratories provide the measurement "tool box" required by manufacturers to be the 1st to market – with the highest quality product – and to be the most innovative.

For manufacturers to make products well – production must be controlled so it is reliable, predictable, and cost-effective. And the key to controlling production is the ability to measure the various attributes of both products and processes.

Let me give you a few examples of NIST research and its impact on U.S. manufacturers:

  • NIST researchers recently developed new measurement techniques that allow for rapid and cost-effective characterization of new materials. Previously, it could cost manufacturers up to $20 million and take a decade to develop and understand the characteristics of one new material. With this NIST measurement advance, the cost and time is estimated to have been cut by 80%.

  • Nanotechnology clearly has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing. And one of the most promising nanomaterials is the carbon nanotube. However, current production techniques result in nanotubes with high levels of uncertainty in their quality and uniformity. In response, NIST is developing a carbon nanotube reference material that, when deployed, can be used to validate product quality, purity, and consistency – and hence accelerate the adoption of nanotubes into more sophisticated devices.

  • NIST operates world-class user facilities that benefit industry and academia. Last year, approximately 2000 researchers from 60 different industries used the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR). A recent major advance at the NCNR is the ability to image the interior of a fuel cell – while it is operating. Companies involved with hydrogen fuel cells including General Motors, Daimler-Chrysler, Dupont, and PlugPower have used this capability to improve the fuel cell efficiency. A National Academy of Sciences report describes the NIST efforts in regards to fuel cell technologies as "...a considerable achievement and one of the most significant analytical advances... The NIST facility offers the entire fuel cell community unique research opportunities that previously eluded them." Industry scientists have stated that the NCNR has allowed them to jump 5 years ahead in terms of fuel cell development within only a few months.

  • NIST recently opened our new Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST), which will partner with industry to facilitate and accelerate the productive use of nanotechnology.

    • By offering collaborative opportunities, the research program offers access to nanoscale measurement and fabrication capabilities not available elsewhere.

    • The CNST focus areas will be on future electronics; nanomanufacturing and nanofab; and energy (to include conversion, storage, and transport).

  • A series of NIST measurements has demonstrated the potential of "liquid lenses" to help the semiconductor industry continue to shrink feature sizes on computer chips. The technique uses liquids to sharpen the focus of patterns used in "printing" semiconductor circuits -- much like the eye uses a liquid center to help form images on the retina. Prototype commercial systems use water to focus 193-nanometer wavelengths of light down to circuit feature sizes of 45 nm.

All of NIST's labs conduct research that support industry. The NIST MEL, however, has the single focus on serving the needs of U.S. manufacturers. MEL possesses core competencies in:

  • Measurement science and rigorous traceability in the mechanical, dimensional, and nanomanufacturing domains; and

  • Development of measurement science and standards for manufacturing systems, processes, and equipment.

Led by Dale Hall, who is here today, MEL is now engaged in a clean-sheet of paper, strategic planning exercise -- to ensure that it remains relevant well into the 21st century.

  • Dale is identifying opportunities where its core competencies can produce the most significant impact for U.S. manufacturers.

  • Right now, he is aiming at critical manufacturing technology needs, including:

    • Continuing to push the frontiers of dimensional metrology to sub-nanometer resolution;

    • Improving in-process, real-time measurement technology on the factory floor to assure the quality of manufactured parts and assemblies;

    • Ensuring the security and reliability of industrial control systems, to maintain the integrity of manufacturing enterprises; and

    • Developing standards and test methods for the integration of factory-floor equipment, including automation, to increase production efficiency and reduce costs.

  • NACFAM has the opportunity to assist MEL in setting its priorities and focus.

  • MEP is a nationwide network that assists manufacturers to compete globally, support supply chain integration, and provide access to technology for improved productivity.

    • MEP is in the process of transitioning to its Next Generation, which will focus on three main elements:

      • Methodologies that guide manufacturers' continual innovation of products, processes, services and business models to reduce bottom line costs and increase top line growth;

      • The development of a system to assess manufacturers' needs and identify potential technology solutions; and

      • Provide decision support tools and market intelligence to drive change.

There are many departments and agencies across the Federal Government that support manufacturers or have programs that directly impact the manufacturing community. NIST has assumed a leadership role in coordinating several of these efforts. For example:

  • NIST MEP has been developing partnerships with several agencies, including DOL, EPA, DOD, USDA, and other parts of DOC focused on leveraging collective resources to help transfer innovative technologies and processes to the marketplace.

  • The Interagency Working Group on Manufacturing R&D has membership from 15 Federal agencies. NIST chairs this effort. This group develops recommendations on manufacturing R&D policy, programs, and prioritization. It is currently coordinating 3 areas: Manufacturing for the Hydrogen Economy, Nanomanufacturing, and Intelligent and Integrated Manufacturing.

  • NIST MEP and NIH have developed an SBIR pilot project under which NIH will provide funding for MEP centers to work with NIH Phase II awardees to improve the commercialization of the research. Similar projects are being discussed with NSF, DOE, and DOD.

NIST and NACFAM have partnered for years in supporting the Nation's manufacturers. As our Nation's manufacturing enterprise transforms due to global competition and rapidly changing technologies – NIST looks forward to an even stronger partnership with NACFAM to ensure that a robust manufacturing community is sustained. Thank you for the opportunity to address you today.

Created October 7, 2009, Updated October 10, 2016