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Optical Society of America Fall Executive Forum

Good afternoon, and thank you for the chance to bring you up to date on some of the activities at the National Institute of Standards and Technology—NIST—that relate directly to your own interests. The science and technology community, including OSA, has become increasingly aware of—and involved with—the workings of government, and that is a welcome development. Society is more complex, and so are the decisions that our leaders must make. Washington policymakers need all of the help they can get from you and your colleagues. But it's not just policymakers that need you. Those of us working at federal science and technology agencies especially need to partner more closely with you to ensure that our efforts provide the maximum bang for the buck, and to make sure that we meet your needs while serving the nation.

I brought with me one of my favorite props: Standard Reference Material 2520. As fiber optic cables are increasingly finding their way to buildings and individual offices and homes, the value of this NIST calibration and quality assurance tool multiplies. That's part of NIST's traditional measurement and standards role—a role that we trace back to the turn of the century. More about that later. But first, I want to bring you up to date on some of our more recent additions that have enabled us to be much more active as industry seeks to modernize manufacturing operations and establish and expand new services.

As the only federal technology agency whose primary mission is to promote economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards, we aren't short on work to be done and opportunities to explore. I know that many of you are familiar with one of our four programs; I suspect that few in this group know the full scope of our portfolio of civilian technology efforts.

Let me begin with our Advanced Technology Program. The ATP is alive and well and is cofunding lots of optics-related projects with industry. We are developing several possible new focused programs, including one of special interest for the photonics community. The ATP is a unique partnership between government and private industry to accelerate the development of high-risk technologies that promise significant commercial payoffs and widespread benefits for the economy. These are technologies which would not otherwise be explored at all, or at least not in the same market-critical timeframe.

Of the $25 billion per year the federal government spends on research, the bulk goes to the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, NASA and the National Science Foundation. (My colleagues on this panel are a lot wealthier.) These agencies decide where to invest based on their programmatic needs. That covers lots of territory, but it leaves some formidable gaps, too—gaps that become a much greater concern as some of our top industrial enterprises shave back their longer-term, more basic research that might yield the technological wonders of the future.

The ATP provides an important bridge to the technologies that should enable industry to develop the commercially viable products that are several—or many—years from the marketplace. For example, industry white papers on ATP candidate areas made it became clear to us that the manufacture of advanced composite materials for non-military applications holds extraordinary potential—if some major barriers could be overcome. We all know of the successful use of advanced composites in the military—the Stealth fighter, for example. These strong composite materials could be put to use in fabricating better offshore oil platforms, bridges, cars and other structures with lower weight and reduced maintenance. The economic payoff to the nation would be huge. But the development of advanced composites has been driven by the needs of the defense industry, stressing performance and traditionally ignoring cost. Accordingly, we now have a focused program in manufacturing composite structures, helping U.S. companies develop the technical capability for producing vast amounts of affordable high-performance composites for large-scale commercial applications. It is a technology partnering program that is making solid progress.

NIST awards cost-shared ATP grants for projects selected in rigorous peer-reviewed competitions. Our general competitions are open to proposals in any technical area. Focused competitions solicit project proposals in narrowly defined technology sectors, defined by priorities identified by industry. Cost-shared grants are awarded on the basis of technological ideas, potential economic benefit to the nation and strength of the plan for eventual commercialization.

Photonics manufacturing for the information age is a potential new focused program. It could be launched by next spring, depending on industry interest and the funding available to us after Congress finishes deliberations on the budget for fiscal year 1998 (which starts in just 2 days, please note). This program could improve U.S. competitiveness in photonics by making cost-reducing technologies available to U.S. manufacturers. To compete internationally, U.S. manufacturers must be able to develop these products quickly and to manufacture them efficiently and in large volume.

Today, you know all too well that many of the tools required are lacking, including packaging technologies, processing methods, materials, instrumentation, simulation and modeling tools and testing and inspection methodologies. This proposed program has support from a variety of regional photonics associations and other organizations. Individual companies would have to share the cost and the risk in projects funded under such a program, and they certainly would share in the benefit. But the ultimate beneficiary of the new focused ATP programs is the U.S. taxpayer through a strengthened economy.

In the photonics area, it's more than a truism that technology is advancing at the speed of light. That's great, but the small and mid-size manufacturers that underlie our entire manufacturing enterprise need to advance with these technological developments or get left behind. Their competition is no longer local—it's global, and too many of the 380,000-plus small manufacturers are not adequately prepared to deal with the demands and challenges of advancing technologies. The NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP, is working hard to see that this crucial economic sector does not get left behind.

Our Manufacturing Extension Partnership is appropriately named. It is a true federal- state partnership of hands-on technical assistance centers that is making a difference for local economies and U.S. manufacturing competitiveness. By co-funding centers now located in all 50 states and Puerto Rico, the MEP is targeting an especially critical segment of the economy—our smaller plants and factories that account for almost 12 million, or two-thirds, of all manufacturing jobs. Our MEP centers are meeting the need to insure that smaller firms have access to information and technical expertise that is otherwise not available to them.

The results are striking. Since 1989, MEP centers have served nearly 56,000 companies. A recent survey of 2,000 of these clients found that MEP assistance saved or created more than 3,200 jobs. This translated into an estimated $218 million increase in total customer value added. The same 2,000 companies reported that MEP assistance sparked capital investments of $72 million.

Let me share with you one of our hundreds of MEP success stories. In July, 1994, William Hanley, president of the Galileo Corporation in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, contacted our Massachusetts Manufacturing Partnership. Galileo makes glass fiber and electro-optic components, assemblies and systems. Over the past decade, the company has made a successful conversion from defense to commercial markets—no easy feat, as many of you know first-hand.

One problem Galileo faced was in the inspection of detector products and their ability to meet inspection and quality standards for a contract with a Netherlands-based company. They knew that improving the inspection process would greatly benefit the company, but they lacked the internal capabilities and they needed quick access to experts.

The Massachusetts MEP center hooked Galileo up with a Worcester consulting firm that wrote an image processing software program designed specifically to meet the company's needs. The cost of developing the new inspection capacity: $3,250. The benefit: a $625,00-a- year contract to manufacture image-intensifying microchannel plates which Galileo wrested from a Japanese competitor. I like those kinds of returns on investment.

Galileo actually has managed a "two-for" with our outreach programs. The company also has completed an ATP-assisted project on advanced technology for microchannel plates used in night vision devices. At the heart of these devices are microchannel plates, or arrays of millions of closely packed microscopic tubes.

The two-year ATP project examined ways to improve the process for making the microchannel plates. The grant also spurred the formation of the Advanced Center for Fiberoptic Applications in central Massachusetts. Moreover, it has the potential to help create whole new markets for microchannel plate devices in fields as diverse as astronomy, night vision for boaters, and as aids for people with night blindness or other visual disorders.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the work of the NIST laboratories which are the essential and original core of our agency—and the part of NIST you may know best. Our founding fathers recognized the importance of weights and measures for a strong economy. The Constitution assigns the federal government the responsibility "to fix the standard of weights and measures" immediately following the responsibility "to coin money."

Trade requires agreed-upon methods for measuring a host of chemical, physical, and engineering properties of goods. That is why the NIST laboratories are of prime importance in thousands of industrial settings in every state of the union. Without the standards of measurement developed and maintained by NIST and the technical advice NIST provides to hundreds of U.S. organizations that work on voluntary standards, domestic industry in general would suffer a great, or even crippling, disadvantage when it comes to certifying products for ever more global markets.

One of the ways our laboratory scientists interact with industry is through research consortia. I'd like to call your attention to a new consortium on the Optical Properties of Materials. On October 7, NIST will hold a meeting to discuss setting up a cooperative research consortium to identify critical industry needs which would benefit from NIST assistance. Organizers plan to discuss performance of high-accuracy measurements, development of standards, critical evaluation of existing data on the optical properties of materials.

The new Optical Properties of Materials consortium is being organized in NIST's Optical Technology Division at the urging of Texas Instruments and the Council for Optical Radiation Measurement. Let me know if you need a contact at NIST to learn more about this consortium.

Our laboratory work in optical fibers is something that has had remarkable impact and serves as a prime example of our measurement and standards function at a time when both are crucial in enabling technology to hit the marketplace. Since 1981, NIST has been working closely with the Telecommunications Industry Association to advance both standards and technology for the optical fiber industry. A 1992 report prepared for NIST by an independent economist estimated that NIST's aid in the development of standards and measurement protocols had, by then, been responsible for annual savings of $9.5 million in the optical fiber industry. This figure is more than four times the cumulative cost of the collaborative work throughout the entire decade of the 1980s.

I want to return to a special contribution from the NIST labs, Standard Reference Material 2520, an optical fiber whose diameter had been more accurately measured and certified than any other fiber in the world. The uncertainty of its diameter is about 50 nanometers. For optical fiber plant engineers, it serves as the ruler by which they monitor the uniformity of their own commercial fibers. The product of our Electronics and Electrical Engineering Laboratory, it is classic NIST. One of the companies that relies on this product is Corning's Telecommunications Products Division. The company is at the vanguard of the information technology revolution, and the optical fiber that it manufactures literally enables much of that revolution to take place.

Corning TPD has partnered with us not just in our laboratory work. They also have team with NIST through the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The unit is a 1995 winner of the award—one of just 28 winners since 1988. Literally thousands of other firms have used the Baldrige Award criteria as a guidebook to management improvement and performance excellence. If you are not familiar with this program, I urge you to look at it carefully, and consider adopting the award's principles as a wonderful approach to managing your organization.

I'd love to help you take advantage of our partnering programs. We want to help you not only to compete in the global market, but to be world leaders in opto-electronics. You can pick up contact information on the table in the back of the room or from our NIST web site,

Created October 16, 2009, Updated October 25, 2016