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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 Summary The mission of the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory (MEL) of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is to promote innovation and the competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing through measurement science, measurement services, and critical technical contributions to standards. This mission is aligned with the mission of NIST, which is to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life. The MEL is organized in five divisions: Intelligent Systems, Manufacturing Metrology, Manufacturing Systems Integration, Precision Engineering, and Fabrication Technology. A panel of experts appointed by the National Research Council (NRC) assessed the first four divisions. Panel members visited these divisions and reviewed their activities.1 As requested by the Director of NIST, the scope of the assessment included the following criteria: (1) the technical merit of the current laboratory programs relative to the current state of the art worldwide; (2) the adequacy of the laboratory facilities, equipment, and human resources, as they affect the quality of the laboratory technical programs; and (3) the degree to which the laboratory programs in measurement science and standards achieve their stated objectives and desired impact. In addition to these three criteria, the panel was asked by the Director of NIST to assess the projects within the laboratory conducted under the America COMPETES Act of 2007, which supports the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative (ACI).2 In the sections below, the summary assessment of the MEL is given, followed by a summary assessment of each division. The chapters after the Summary then present the charge to the panel and a description of the assessment process, detailed assessments of the individual divisions, the progress of the programs funded under the America COMPETES Act of 2007, and overall report conclusions. SUMMARY ASSESSMENT OF THE LABORATORY The panel’s summary assessment of the Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory is as follows: The MEL is achieving its mission and helping NIST achieve its core mission through the development of needed technologies, tools, and standards in areas that are key to successful U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness. The MEL staff is highly capable, nationally and internationally respected, and well motivated; the staff possesses a strong positive outlook and is passionate about the work of the laboratory. All four of the MEL divisions assessed have one or more projects whose technical work is among the best in the field. Examples include but are not limited to the Helium-Ion Microscopy project in the Precision Engineering Division (PED), the 1 The fifth division of the MEL—the Fabrication Technology Division (FTD)—was not assessed because it is a support organization providing fabrication and technical support services to all NIST staff. FTD assists NIST staff in the design and development of instruments and measurement devices needed to maintain the national and international standards of measurement and measurement services. 2 See Domestic Policy Council, Office of Science and Technology Policy, 2006, American Competitiveness Initiative, Washington, D.C. “America COMPETES Act” is the short title for the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007 (Public Law 110-69).
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 Mass and Force Metrology projects in the Manufacturing Metrology Division (MMD), the Automation Interoperability project in the Intelligent Systems Division (ISD), and the Supply Chain Integration project in the Manufacturing Systems Integration Division (MSID). The MEL has excellent facilities and testbeds in many areas. It has maintained its equipment capabilities through innovative partnerships with equipment suppliers and other outside entities. Maintaining this level may require additional investment. There is a need to reexamine program priorities through strategic planning at both the laboratory and division levels in order to achieve improved balance between attention to top-down program directives of national significance that cut across multiple disciplines and attention to innovative bottom-up ideas from individual researchers. The continued achievement of technical objectives and the maintenance of core competencies will require taking action with respect to personnel succession planning, more aggressive hiring of young permanent staff, and addressing shrinking sources of personnel in key areas such as core manufacturing technologies, metrology, and optics. A lack of resources threatens the development of needed technologies and tools and the ability to hire more postdoctoral associates. Moreover, making use of guest workers who do not have the possibility of permanent employment does not address the succession planning issue. It is too early to assess the progress of programs in the MEL that are funded through the President’s American Competitiveness Initiative and the America COMPETES Act of 2007. The support that these initiatives promise is providing for important Supply Chain Integration and Bio-Imaging programs. Future expanded MEL involvement in such initiatives is encouraged, and should take into account the fact that manufacturing includes broader areas of supply chain, life cycle, and service. To have greater impact on the core mission of NIST, the very definition of “manufacturing” should be expanded to cover the broader areas of service, enterprise productivity, and products for areas such as health care, farming automation, and intelligent transportation systems. Overall, the four individual divisions are performing to the best of their ability, given available resources. In many areas in all four divisions, the capabilities and the work being performed are among the best in the field. However, reduced funding and other factors such as difficulty in hiring permanent staff are limiting (and are likely to increasingly limit) the degree to which MEL programs can achieve their objectives and are threatening the future impact of these programs. SUMMARY ASSESSMENTS OF FOUR DIVISIONS Intelligent Systems Division The Intelligent Systems Division develops intelligent systems technologies, tools, and standards that have major impacts on the successful progress of U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness. It has established strong leadership in the areas of intelligent systems measurement, interoperability, safety, and security. Measurement has been one of the ISD’s major strengths, and the division has maintained its excellent reputation and technology leadership in this area. In the area of interoperability, the focus has been on establishing standards and testbeds in the areas of computer numerical control (CNC), dimensional inspection equipment interoperability, and
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 autonomous-vehicle and materials-handling systems, with the ISD serving as a catalyst in promoting collaboration among industries. In the area of safety and security, the ISD has made important contributions in establishing NIST SP 800-53, Recommended Security Controls for Federal Information Systems, and NIST SP 800-82, Guide to Industrial Control Systems Security. The ISD has technical capabilities in its core programs that are among the best. These programs include micro- and nanomanufacturing measurement and positioning systems, Standard for the Exchange of Product Model Data: Numerical Control (STEP NC)3 and Open Modular Architecture Controller (OMAC) for real-time data models, machine compensation, machining tool path optimization, and Ethernet/Internet Protocol (IP) performance test tools. While ISD facilities are generally very good, the human resources available to achieve important goals are inadequate. The prognosis for hiring successor personnel appears to be problematic in key areas, potentially threatening future core competency in the ISD’s critical skills. Finally, the ISD has opportunities to expand its capabilities and impact in diversified, value-added industries, covering broader areas of manufacturing relevance including the areas of service, enterprise productivity, health care, farming automation, and intelligent transportation systems. Manufacturing Metrology Division The Manufacturing Metrology Division programs compare very favorably with peer activities at the national standards institutions of other countries. For example, the Mass and Force Metrology projects are at the forefront in their domain. Even where investments in programs at other laboratories, such as the Physikalisch-Technische Bundesanstalt (PTB) in Germany, are higher, the MMD staff has the ability to maintain competitive programs. This is reflected in the results of a worldwide round-robin study conducted in the mass area. Also, in emerging areas such as wireless sensors, NIST researchers are acknowledged leaders in the development of standards. Given the likely widespread impact of wireless sensors technology, it is critical that this leadership role be maintained with appropriate investment. MMD staff members are active in standards committees for such areas as mass metrology and wireless sensors. They are active in the dissemination of results to a wide audience through the organization of and participation in meetings and conferences. An example is the upcoming International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP) symposium in the machining area that is to be held at NIST. The MMD staff reviewed by the panel are extremely capable and well motivated, and they have a strong positive outlook. These facts, coupled with excellent facilities and equipment, have yielded high-quality work. However, a number of concerns may impede the continued excellent performance of the MMD. For example, more staff members are needed in critical areas such as optics. The hiring of trained replacements for soon-to-retire senior staff members and the recruiting and retaining of young engineers and scientists are needed. The use of postdoctoral associates is an excellent vehicle for bringing in and training new young talent; however, making use of the availability of guest workers who do not have the possibility of permanent employment is unlikely to address longer-term strategic personnel issues. 3 STEP NC is a standard developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) to bring computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing (CAD/CAM) data into CNC.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Manufacturing Engineering Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 Manufacturing Systems Integration Division The Manufacturing Systems Integration Division has an excellent international reputation and excellent technical expertise in electronic information exchange, rich semantic structures, and systems integration. The MSID has appropriately focused its scope on three major programs: Supply Chain Integration, Sustainable and Lifecycle Information-based Manufacturing, and Simulation-based Interoperability Standards and Testing. For each of these programs, the outputs from the MSID include rigorously defined standards and protocols, realistic pilot programs, and software and interoperability testing services. The scope of the MSID’s programs is in line with its budget, and it has produced high-quality research with concrete results. In general, the MSID is doing excellent technical work that is at the state of the art. The groups in the division that are researching and influencing interoperability standards are performing technical work that ranks among the best. This has been demonstrated, for example, with interoperability standards, the development and testing of standards, simulation, and the assisting of vendors in the implementation of the new functionality. Improved dissemination of the excellent work done in the MSID group on semantic interoperability could have significant impact far beyond the Supply Chain Integration project. Core personnel are working very well as a team, providing overall strong leadership. However, the effective MSID budget has been severely reduced over recent years, resulting in a shift from permanent personnel to guest researchers; furthermore, there appears to be a lack of successor personnel in key positions. These changes are reducing the division’s agility, effectiveness, ability to achieve stated objectives, and national impact. Precision Engineering Division The Precision Engineering Division is providing the foundation of dimensional measurement that is crucial to the U.S. industrial and scientific communities. The move to the division’s current facilities, which are the best of their kind, with their stringent environmental control, has resulted in a dramatic improvement in metrology capabilities. The PED has maintained equipment capabilities that are among the best through innovative partnerships with equipment suppliers and other outside entities. The PED’s efforts in helium-ion microscopy, atom-based metrology, nanoparticles for biosystems, and whole wafer/photomask capability are forward-looking. The PED has had major impact both nationally and internationally by delivering new standard reference materials, calibration services, and documentation. The PED research staff reviewed by the panel are knowledgeable, dedicated, and enthusiastic about their work. The PED has made significant improvements over the past 3 years in meeting the needs of the semiconductor industry. Future opportunities exist for the division to seek feedback from U.S. industry, to increase the visibility of the PED within the national technical community, and to promote traceability and standards development. Benchmarking is performed currently for other national standards institutions, but this activity could be expanded to industry in order to capture significant cutting-edge capabilities not available at other national standards institutions. The PED needs more favorable cost structures to support the delivery of calibration and measurement services; these include, for example, the use of machine charges, consumables charges, service center charges, and activity-based cost accounting. Strategic planning is likely to be crucial in the following areas: capital equipment; human resources, including the succession of personnel; technical focus areas (roadmaps); and investment and disinvestment in calibration and measurement services.