Executive Summary

International economic competition has grown enormously in the last decade, and several U.S. industries are no longer the world leaders they once were. To regain or maintain vitality, U.S. manufacturers are increasingly using information technology—computers, communications, and complex systems that combine the two. Both the technology and the understanding of how best to use it have been advancing, changing the way that customers think and businesses operate. As a result, from conceptualization of a product through research, development, source selection, distribution, and marketing, manufacturing is becoming a set of information-gathering, analysis, decision-making, dissemination, and archiving activities, an outgrowth of which is the conversion of raw materials to finished products.

Information technology is making possible substantial changes in the organization and effectiveness of manufacturing activities. Equipment and stations within factories, entire manufacturing enterprises, and webs of suppliers, partners, and customers located throughout the world can be more effectively connected and integrated through the use of information technology. Information technology provides the tools to achieve goals that are widely regarded as critical to the future of manufacturing: rapid shifts in production from one product to another; faster implementation of new concepts in products and faster delivery of products to customers; more intimate interactions with customers, who more directly and completely specify what they need; fuller utilization of capital; and streamlining of operations to focus on what is essential to a business and to eliminate unnecessary activities. As this list suggests, technology is a critical enabler, but its development and implementation will be shaped by organizational, managerial, and human resources concerns. Because of these concerns, manufacturers have had difficulty getting the most out of the technology that exists today. Sensitivity to these concerns is essential to the successful development and implementation of the technologies associated with visions of manufacturing for the 21st century.

This preliminary report outlines needs for information technology research directly related to manufacturing, information technology research supportive of manufacturing, and action in areas that can be leveraged to enhance or complement the development of information technology for manufacturing (e.g., academic-industrial relations, education and training, and such social constraints as resistance to change). It does not address advances in physical processes except as they relate to computer-based controls, interfaces, and other aspects of their incorporation into manufacturing information systems, although the designers of such processes as well as research funding agencies need to keep at the forefront of their agendas the smooth integration of such processes with contemporary information systems. Federal attention to information technology research that can benefit manufacturers is



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Information Technology and Manufacturing: A Preliminary Report on Research Needs Executive Summary International economic competition has grown enormously in the last decade, and several U.S. industries are no longer the world leaders they once were. To regain or maintain vitality, U.S. manufacturers are increasingly using information technology—computers, communications, and complex systems that combine the two. Both the technology and the understanding of how best to use it have been advancing, changing the way that customers think and businesses operate. As a result, from conceptualization of a product through research, development, source selection, distribution, and marketing, manufacturing is becoming a set of information-gathering, analysis, decision-making, dissemination, and archiving activities, an outgrowth of which is the conversion of raw materials to finished products. Information technology is making possible substantial changes in the organization and effectiveness of manufacturing activities. Equipment and stations within factories, entire manufacturing enterprises, and webs of suppliers, partners, and customers located throughout the world can be more effectively connected and integrated through the use of information technology. Information technology provides the tools to achieve goals that are widely regarded as critical to the future of manufacturing: rapid shifts in production from one product to another; faster implementation of new concepts in products and faster delivery of products to customers; more intimate interactions with customers, who more directly and completely specify what they need; fuller utilization of capital; and streamlining of operations to focus on what is essential to a business and to eliminate unnecessary activities. As this list suggests, technology is a critical enabler, but its development and implementation will be shaped by organizational, managerial, and human resources concerns. Because of these concerns, manufacturers have had difficulty getting the most out of the technology that exists today. Sensitivity to these concerns is essential to the successful development and implementation of the technologies associated with visions of manufacturing for the 21st century. This preliminary report outlines needs for information technology research directly related to manufacturing, information technology research supportive of manufacturing, and action in areas that can be leveraged to enhance or complement the development of information technology for manufacturing (e.g., academic-industrial relations, education and training, and such social constraints as resistance to change). It does not address advances in physical processes except as they relate to computer-based controls, interfaces, and other aspects of their incorporation into manufacturing information systems, although the designers of such processes as well as research funding agencies need to keep at the forefront of their agendas the smooth integration of such processes with contemporary information systems. Federal attention to information technology research that can benefit manufacturers is

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Information Technology and Manufacturing: A Preliminary Report on Research Needs especially timely, because slimmer profit margins are reducing corporate research and development budgets and the climate has become more favorable for corporations to assimilate useful new technology. Three themes are evident in the technical recommendations developed by the committee: the advancement of knowledge required to achieve (1) better modeling and prototyping of products, processes, and factories; (2) better real-time control of processes and factories; and (3) better integration of enterprises (internally and with external suppliers or customers). Among the technical needs identified by the committee are the following: Research is needed to develop methods to enable the realization of a “virtual factory” (i.e., a model that simulates factory operations). This area of inquiry includes extension of existing work on networking and infrastructure research, as well as development of the modeling and simulation capabilities needed for designing the virtual factory before it is built and as a basis for operating it after it is built. Research is needed in manufacturing process representations in the broadest sense. Such research would support both manufacturing process modeling and the design of the products to be manufactured. The descriptions and models of manufacturing processes in their wide variety will be used to design and operate factories, as well as to experiment with and evaluate control and organizational changes before actual systems are installed. Process representations will also be used to enhance product design, so that by simulation and emulation the best process can be matched to the product design (and vice versa) for maximum economic advantage (or to satisfy whatever criteria—such as quality or time to delivery—are important for the particular case). This use of simulation and emulation is often termed “design for manufacturability,” but the concept transcends that limiting title to encompass design for assembly, design for rapid testing and diagnosis, design for fast maintenance and repair, and design for modeling more efficient factory processes and operations. Research is needed in representation theory and methods for describing product components so that their descriptions can be manipulated in computer-aided design programs, analyzed, understood, and stored and retrieved at will. These descriptions must be robust, so that fast, efficient, easy-to-use methods of searching databases for these data can be developed. Better databases themselves are needed to store not only basic data but also, as a means of enhancing creativity, visual simulations and video clips of the parts and components in use in prior designs. Although better representations are needed in all fields, a particular need is evident in the representation of mechanical components and assemblies. Electronic design has, through considerable investment in the last 20 years, reached a pinnacle of capability: progress and investment have lagged in the mechanical domain. Increasingly, the hard issues, even in electronic systems, are mechanical in nature (e.g., packaging, assembly, thermal balance), requiring that progress be made in these areas. Research is needed to increase understanding of the process of design itself and to enable the creation of better tools for the design of better products—investment that will harness the broad spectrum of capability across the country. Domains worthy of special note are those of a cross-disciplinary nature: electrical and mechanical, electronic, and software, and all three combined. Research is needed in modeling frameworks to link the wide variety of models representing segments of manufacturing activity. A wide range of models is needed to simulate realistically the complexity of even a modest factory. Work is needed not only on general modeling but also on fast methods of tailoring a specific model to the local conditions.

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Information Technology and Manufacturing: A Preliminary Report on Research Needs Research is needed on methods for designing factories and their information systems so that the maximum number of different products can be produced efficiently or so that products can be produced and made available to customers in the shortest possible time. Such work has implications for military preparedness in today’s environment of more prototypes and fewer production runs. Research is needed to develop the capabilities required for rapid reconfiguration of production processes. Many of these capabilities depend on software systems, networks, and interfaces. Important areas include dynamic scheduling (including supporting, modeling, and analysis tools), intelligent routing, and other systems to support rapid reconfiguration. Research is needed to advance the level of process automation, including more automated responses to problems and greater ease of interconnection of factory equipment. The achievement of open architecture control systems would contribute to both the interconnection of factory equipment and enterprise integration. Research is needed to extend and enhance the information infrastructure supporting manufacturing enterprises, including both the internal infrastructure used by all parts of the enterprise and the external infrastructure that increasingly links an enterprise to its suppliers, partners, and customers. The use of networks by all kinds of personnel and of equipment to exchange all kinds of data (text, numeric, graphic, and video) calls for high bandwidth; greater dependability and security; greater support for real-time communication, monitoring, and control; and better interoperability (through architectures, standards, and interfaces) for component systems and networks of different types. Achieving a greater ease of interconnection is essential; attaching equipment and subsystems to a factory information system should be as easy as plugging household appliances into outlets, at least in principle. Beyond better network-related facilities there is a need for better technology for the exchange of information, information services to support integration of applications, and standard representations, protocols, libraries, and query languages. This preliminary report provides a detailed overview of these and complementary recommendations, which are presented according to a framework that is consistent with that of the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Initiative of the Federal Coordinating Council for Science, Engineering, and Technology. A final report by the committee will address more fully several of the issues presented here.