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Information Technology and Manufacturing: A Preliminary Report on Research Needs
BOX 5.1 TEACHING FACTORIES
A teaching factory is a collection of processing and control equipment (including tools, fixtures, machines, computers, and interfaces) organized so that a product or family of products can be produced. The factory would demonstrate a variety of activities and principles, including the specifics of processing, control, system and product design, associated management, and their interactions. The interactions of all of these activities are what differentiates the teaching factory from a conventional manufacturing laboratory. The study of manufacturing, like other engineering education activities, is a process that requires a strong laboratory experience, in which difficult concepts and poorly understood interactions can be demonstrated and learning can be reinforced. Research to develop innovative and economic means of creating teaching factories is necessary to prepare the manufacturing specialists for the factory of the future as well as to develop deep research understanding of specific processes.
One variation on the concept of a teaching factory—the extension of the manufacturing enterprise into academic institutions—would be made possible by a broader, enhanced national information infrastructure such as that envisioned as enabling greater inter-enterprise integration and the virtual enterprise concept (see “Enterprise and Inter-enterprise Integration” in Chapter 4). Efforts to develop remote access should specifically address problems related to electronic connectivity, the transfer of technically complex principles, and shared access to expensive manufacturing equipment and critical information or knowledge.
articulate to academia the basic intellectual issues of manufacturing, not only to help guide research but also to make those issues recognizable to people in traditional disciplines. Industry can also impress upon manufacturing faculty (many of whom have limited expertise in information technology) the need for industry involvement and the increasing importance of information technology to manufacturing.
A variety of mechanisms could foster better academic-industrial interaction relating to manufacturing. A fellowship or sabbatical program, for example, could place academics in factories and factory people in academia for periods of about a year. (Shorter periods have proven less satisfactory; periods of about a year allow the researcher to better understand the special qualities and inherent problems of the manufacturing environment, to explore its different operations and dimensions (e.g., by rotating through different units), and to contribute substantially to addressing a problem.4) Historically, this concept has been thwarted by tenure pressures that militate against long absences from the university by researchers during the period in which they are forming their research programs. To succeed now, mechanisms are needed to ensure that researchers are not penalized for this kind of investment of time and effort.
Testbeds are needed to help researchers see if their ideas are valid. It is not possible to set aside portions of real factories for such experiments. Yet testbeds must be realistic enough to enable researchers not only to find out if their ideas work but also to learn the constraints of real manufacturing environments and discover opportunities and research problems (Box 5.1). The Metal Oxide Semiconductor Implementation Service (MOSIS) provides such a testbed for designers of chips; the concept of a “mechanical MOSIS” service has been proposed in the past, and it continues to be attractive as a vehicle for rapid prototyping. (A key to such a service would be to make sure that manufacturing aspects are sufficiently visible to designers and other academic users.)
Any program that provides major funding for academic research in manufacturing will likely increase academia’s interest in manufacturing; of course, that is an objective of the