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Information Technology and Manufacturing: A Preliminary Report on Research Needs
delivery systems will have to provide overview data as well as fundamental knowledge. NSF support of these technologies, perhaps through Education and Human Resources Directorate programs, could increase the skill base of the manufacturing sector, as well as of other sectors of society in general.
The challenge of providing new educational technology can easily be underestimated. But it is a complex, multifaceted task. The target population spans a wide range of educational backgrounds, capabilities, and needs. Some individuals will want a high-level overview of the material, and others will want in-depth courses with detailed practice sessions. The work force today spans multiple languages in the domestic United States, and specific topics will also be made available to people in other countries and from different cultures. Thus the content of educational programs and information is critical, the quality of presentation must meet modern expectations, and usability must be tunable to purpose.
For example, new design methods developed in academia are especially hard to transfer to industry because industry normally gets such methods from computer-aided design (CAD) vendors. So the transfer takes two steps (from academia to CAD vendors, and from CAD vendors to their customers). However, CAD companies are typically small and very limited in their resources, so they cannot afford to take risks on new research ideas. Instead, they take their clues from their major customers. Consequently, a technology transfer strategy for design methods must enlist the support of potential users as well as equip the CAD vendors.
Industry should be more open and accepting of new ideas, and it should be more willing to expose both data and problems to academic researchers. Academics should recognize the importance intellectually as well as nationally of, and pay more attention to, the problems being encountered by industry, especially those regarding scale and complexity. Unfortunately, manufacturing is dismissed in many academic circles as a shrinking portion of the GNP symbolized by unexciting smokestack factories.
For perspective on the larger problem of nurturing academic work related to system development, see forthcoming report: Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council. 1993. Academic Careers for Experimental Computer Scientists and Engineers. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. (in press).
See Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council. 1993. National Collaborators: Applying Information Technology for Scientific Research. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
Industry could reciprocate by funding further education for its workers.
One example of a useful exchange is the MIT Leaders for Manufacturing program, which links engineering and business school faculty with industrial representatives and involves master theses developed by students “on location” in manufacturing environments.
See forthcoming report: Computer Science and Telecommunications Board, National Research Council. 1993. Information Technology in the Service Society: A 21st Century Lever. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.
Software developers draw on objective third-party users in beta tests of new products or versions to verify functional capabilities and ensure lack of defects. Explicitly applying the concept and practice of a beta testing period into production launch activities would provide for significant first trials of the custom software typical of manufacturing information systems.