Commendable effort is being demonstrated by the Next-Generation Robotics and Automation program in promoting and participating in the development of robot safety standards as a member of the Robotics Industries Association. Beyond safety standards, the program is in its infancy. The human-robotic interaction that is currently being developed for use in industry is much more complex than the situations being studied at NIST. Objectives are yet to be clearly stated and demonstrated with respect to collaboration with humans and dexterous manipulation at microscales and nanoscales. How this effort relates to RIA or ASTM standards for measuring performance is not clear. The pursuit of these activities at NIST should proceed only if they are potentially viable and if constructive standards can be envisioned. NIST need not compete for leadership in the development of robotic technology for industry, but research on characterization of the technology and the development of supporting measurements and controls can be valuable to the developers of robotic technology for industry. NIST should maintain and develop expertise in robotics to a scale supportive of standards development for products or technologies that are already in use or potentially viable, and it should resist the temptation to develop its own innovative products or technologies—endeavors that are better left to industry, universities, and other research-tasked federal laboratories. Otherwise, the effort would not fit well into the mission of NIST. Robotics expertise at NIST could help identify, research, and promote the standardization of modes of interoperability among robots of various manufacturers, as is being done for machine tools. This type of effort would help industry utilize robots more efficiently, and it would continue to support NIST’s mission.
Smart Manufacturing Control Systems Program
The purpose of the Smart Manufacturing Control Systems program is to enable real-time monitoring, control, and optimization of manufacturing systems. The program deals with measurement science that utilizes factory networks, information modeling and testing, and performance measurement and optimization. This work requires advanced analytics, modeling and simulation, and the use of real-time production information. The goal of this activity is to utilize measurement science to develop standards to allow real-time sharing of information between manufacturing equipment and the applications that control the machine performance.
This group is actively working with General Motors (GM) and the Boeing Company in pilot production tests. It also is affiliated with the Open Modular Architecture Controls Users Group, the Association for Manufacturing Technology, the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, and the Dimensional Metrology Standards Consortium, and it collaborates with the ITL at NIST.
The work of the SMCS program is well executed and reflects the input from its industry partners. The systems that were demonstrated for the review team are linked together well. The metrics used are the project milestones, which should be replaced with metrics that measure improvements in productivity, quality, and safety. The technology has a long way to go before it becomes the “plug-and-play” system that the SMCS program is aiming to provide. In this area, the group needs to understand how to accelerate its efforts to keep up with the advances that are being made in industry research. One strategy that should be considered is the gathering of data in industry environments (machine builders and/or users) and the use of these data to develop standards. The goals of the program also need to be clarified so that the connection between the development of standards in control systems and the maintenance and creation of U.S. jobs is clearly stated in view of the fact that many controller manufacturers and machine integrators are overseas.