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A New, "New Paradigm" for Government-Industry Cooperation?

Good evening, and thanks for inviting me.

We at NIST and the Department of Commerce greatly appreciate what the National Electronics Manufacturing Initiative is working to accomplish. I am certain that the same can be said for other federal technology agencies and laboratories. We are not only grateful for NEMI's leadership, but we also are impressed by what has been accomplished so far. This third iteration of the NEMI roadmap is an excellent example of the consortium's effectiveness – and its promise.

In addition to its very important details, the roadmap and the NEMI roadmap coordinating activity add considerable value by creating a rational framework. They embrace the entire electronics industry, providing the mortar that connects many of the industry's building block technologies.

This is solid evidence of industrial commitment and forward thinking. These, too, are essential – if unwritten – elements of your roadmap. Industrial commitment and forward thinking are necessary ingredients of efforts that will be required to sustain a globally competitive electronic manufacturing sector in the century ahead.

So, let me add that we at NIST also are committed to contributing to NEMI's continued progress and success. Like you, we want your industry to be the best and most competitive in the world.

Tonight, I'd like to take a step back and review the NEMI line-up of research performers. I'll focus on an important, but sometimes inconsistent, role player. The federal government.

And I'm going to jump ahead to my conclusion immediately:

The government and industry cooperation and commitment that gave rise to NEMI must continue to be cultivated. The progress that has been made since the early 1990s has generated momentum, and this momentum should not be squandered. NEMI was born of urgency – of a sense of crisis that pervaded much of U.S. manufacturing. The underlying causes of this urgency have since been obscured by a growing economy. Unfortunately, many of the needs – and, yes, weaknesses – that spawned NEMI remain. Not only that, despite a rash of troubles in overseas economies, the competition is getting better all the time. We need to beware of complacency, and we need to stick with this effort for the long haul.

Background: Evolution of NEMI and the Federal Role

Like all of NEMI, the federal technology role must adapt and evolve. NEMI has progressed from a government-led undertaking to an initiative in which government is now an invited participant – a role player. The shift was a critical one, vital to achieving the Initiative's ultimate goal. Without strong private sector leadership and healthy industry interest, NEMI would flounder.

Today, there are many constructive interactions between NEMI members and government. At NIST, I can point to the Advanced Technology Program's new focused program on microelectronics manufacturing infrastructure. NEMI's technology roadmap and white papers by NEMI members figured significantly in defining the program's four thrust areas. These are:

  • Wafer technology,
  • Semiconductor packaging,
  • Very high density off-chip interconnects, and
  • Chip-to-board integration.

During the program's first competition, 55 research proposals were submitted. They are now being reviewed by teams of NIST staff and outside experts. Winners of the competition will be announced later this year.

Another example of collaboration is NEMI's plug-and-play factory project. This project is leveraging NIST research on integration architectures, software interfaces, and other information technology standards. System, factory, and enterprise integration are a growing thrust of programs in our Measurement and Standards Laboratories. Based at Georgia Tech, the plug- and-play project combines the talents of industry, government, and universities – the kind of partnership envisioned from NEMI's very beginning.

We also interact closely with NEMI's member companies. Solectron, for example, is a two- time winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award -- a singular accomplishment. Solectron has been the consummate role model, following through on virtually every opportunity to spread the message of quality and business excellence.

Motorola – another NEMI company and another Baldrige Award winner – collaborates with NIST in several areas. The company was a key player in the formation of the Chicago Manufacturing Center – a node in NIST's Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP. For those of you who may not know, the MEP is a nationwide network of outreach programs that provide technical and business assistance to smaller manufacturers. These firms number more than 380,000 nationwide, and they include the vast majority of companies in your industry's "food chain."

The need to continuously improve supplier capabilities is a major concern not only for Motorola. It's an issue for all the original equipment manufacturers in the electronics sector. The addition of supply chain management to the NEMI roadmap is confirmation of this fact.

I invite the working group responsible for this area to leverage the resources and services of NIST's MEP. There are extension centers and field offices in every state and Puerto Rico. So, the infrastructure is in place to help firms all around the country to become leaner and more efficient – to become better performers in OEM supply chains. Most important, MEP works. This has been confirmed in extensive evaluations regularly conducted by the program, and by independent studies of the impacts of manufacturing extension services.

NIST's Measurement and Standards Laboratories are another source of leverage for NEMI companies. Motorola again is a case in point. It participates on NIST's Solder Interconnect Design Team. One product of this collaboration is software for optimizing electronic package leads, and the software is making a difference. Motorola's electronic package designers credit it with significant improvements in product yields. Our labs have strong linkages with many other NEMI partners.

The Value of Roadmaps to NIST Planning

I offer these examples only to underscore the point that interactions between federal agencies and private sector organizations whether individual companies or consortia--can be highly productive. We – industry and government – have gotten much better at collaboration.

Technology roadmaps are a big reason why. We at NIST love them. Our job – our mission – is to support the growth of the U.S. economy by providing measurements, standards, and technology – principally infrastructural technology. This mission may not be as broad as solving world hunger but it's not exactly narrow, either.

Roadmaps help us to guide our investments and to allocate our resources in accordance with U.S. industry's priorities. And the more detailed the roadmaps, the better. The inclusion of "test, inspection, and measurement" in the NEMI roadmap will prove to be very useful to our Measurement and Standards Laboratories.

Consider the impact of just two of the roadmaps that are being coordinated with NEMI's – the National Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors and the one developed by the Optoelectronics Industry Development Association. The Semiconductor Industry Association's magnum opus – the NTRS – was a powerful impetus for our National Semiconductor Metrology Program. The measurement challenges outlined in the roadmap were compelling enough to convince Congress of the need to respond and to allocate funds for the program.

The young program has galvanized NIST-wide resources and expertise to address the semiconductor industry's highest-priority measurement needs – and there are many. Although not of the scale that we ultimately envision, the National Semiconductor Metrology Program has assembled a critical mass of about 30 projects. The industry – chip makers and their suppliers – already are realizing benefits in the form of new measurement methods and tools.

We hope to convince our bosses in the Commerce Department, in the Office of Management and Budget, and in Congress that setting up a similar NIST-wide program in optoelectronics would also be a wise investment. We believe that it will be most efficient to mount a collaborative national assault on measurement challenges that transcend the young and promising optoelectronics industry. With billions of dollars at stake to the U.S. economy, we need to invest in building sorely needed measurement capability.

So, as you can see, the roadmaps developed by NEMI and its partners are having a significant impact on NIST's thinking and on the content and direction of our programs. Work is proceeding, and progress is being made.

The Need for "Topsight"

Yet, agency-by-agency linkages do not provide "topsight" – a big-picture view of activities under way government-wide. Nor do they afford the wide-ranging interorganizational exchanges of ideas and information that were so constructive during NEMI's formative stages.

The need for sectorwide, two-way communication has not subsided. Technology and science are moving too fast. Global competitive conditions are too fluid. Opportunities are too fleeting, and the technology gaps that we must bridge are too wide to leave communication to chance, or even to individual initiative. Both government and industry stand to gain from a more systematic and more proactive approach to surveying the technology landscape in electronics.

From the government perspective, an example that pops quickly into mind is defense technology. As the Pentagon continues to transition toward greater reliance on a commercial technology base, there is an even greater need for regular communication between government and industry. Electronics technologies are fundamental to the performance all modern defense systems. Fortunately, the NEMI roadmap already addresses some important defense needs, such as hand-held equipment and harsh environments, but, I suspect, a variety of specialized requirements fall outside of NEMI's scope.

The Defense Department must be alert to trends and developments and to basic research supporting the entire scope of electronics technologies. It must understand the manufacturing capabilities that underlie these technologies. It also must be quick to identify research and technology gaps – specialized needs likely to go unaddressed in the commercial sector. These include infrastructural requirements to make the privatization process proceed smoothly. Close attention also must be paid to long-term research – a matter also of special concern to the commercial side.

In the next iteration of the roadmap, there may be an opportunity to add defense electronics to the mix of interrelated technology areas that NEMI now surveys and factors into its planning. I've been advised that NEMI's management council also feels there is a need to revitalize communication links between government and industry and to gain a higher-level perspective on the collection of activities under way in both sectors. NIST would like to help.

A good next step might be to create a joint forum that is convened periodically to serve as sounding board for government and industry organizations with electronics interests.

Whither Federal Science and Technology Policy?

Permit me, now, to zoom out to an even wider perspective and briefly touch on a few developments in federal science and technology policy. In recent years there has been much discussion – and a fair bit of argument – on the appropriate role of government in research and development. In fact, you may have noticed that the discussion is ongoing. And it's not just about R&D budgets.

Last October, the House of Representatives initiated a Science Policy Study. Vernon Ehlers, the Michigan congressman who is vice chairman of the House Science Committee, is heading the review. A number of hearings have been held.

The objective of this review is to craft a clearly defined, long-term vision for the direction of research in the United States and for the improvement of math and science education. The study is expected to be completed fairly soon. It will take longer – at least a budget cycle or two – to assess its impact.

Obviously, there are many, many factors to be considered when charting a new policy course. I'll comment on only a few. As technological capabilities increase around the world, our national priorities must include continued development of a U.S.-based technology pool. They should also include wide deployment of appropriate technology in our industries. Just as there is an unarguable need for government support for long-term basic science, there is, I believe, a compelling need for federal support to develop and nurture what sometimes is called basic technology – the precursors of tomorrow's products and processes.

Federal science and technology policy also should reckon with changes in the way industry spends its R&D dollars. Not only that, the policy should factor in the consequences of shortening product cycles and intensifying global competition.

We all have read about – and many have bemoaned – the decline of large corporate laboratories that could afford to bankroll curiosity-driven research. Industry research is now tied more directly to the bottom line.

That's a fact, and it makes federal support of long-term research at universities and government laboratories all the more important. There are opportunities, for example, to leverage defense, space, energy, and other mission-oriented research that attends to long-term needs.

At the same time that companies are shortening their research horizons, electronics firms and others in fast-paced, high-technology industries must prospect for discoveries and developments across a much broader territory. The merging of technologies creates new, exciting commercial opportunities. But these opportunities may go unrealized if companies cannot marshal all the necessary state-of-the-art ingredients.

It's not enough to have the fastest, smartest, and cheapest chips. You need better batteries, better materials, better solder pastes, better packaging, and so on. You need top-notch suppliers with world-class technologies. But as you move down the food chain from semiconductor manufacturing to the printed wiring board and assembly industries, the amount of sales plowed back into research drops steeply. Spending for R&D drops from more than 10 percent of sales to about 1 percent – and virtually all of that 1 percent goes for testing and short-term development.

This fragmentation also is part of the new reality that federal science and technology policy must better recognize and address. It seems clear that maintaining vital, high-technology industries – and all the jobs and wealth they create – will require paying sustained attention to health of the nation's manufacturing infrastructure. It will require public investments, to be sure.

But making the most effective use of federal dollars will require innovative partnerships – a leveraging of public and private resources. We can already point to examples where these kinds of partnerships exist and have been successful. I can point to the NIST ATP project on advanced manufacturing technologies for the printed wiring board industry. Participating companies credit the jointly funded, collaborative research effort with reversing the industry's decline in global market share. Not bad. By the way, much of the credit for the success of this project goes to the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, a NEMI member that managed the multi- organization effort.

From cause for skepticism, our government, industry, and university partnerships now have matured into a central feature of this nation's R&D picture. Where they were a novel experiment a decade ago, they now must be a central element in the framework of federal science and technology policy.

Having said that, a key issue that will continue to confront all of our organizations is, how can we continuously improve our performance as partners? NEMI is still a young organization, and it still has some growing pains to overcome. But NEMI also has achieved an early record of success that can help inform and guide other partnerships on the road to improved performance. Everyone involved with NEMI should feel both a sense of accomplishment and a joint determination to pass the ever more challenging milestones on the NEMI roadmap.

Thank you.

Created October 16, 2009, Updated October 25, 2016