15
Technical And Economic Contexts

Unit manufacturing processes are the building blocks of a nation's manufacturing capability. They are the individual steps required to produce finished goods by transforming raw material and adding value to the workpiece as it becomes a finished product. The effectiveness and efficiency of unit processes are, therefore, key determinants of total production costs. Given their importance, to what degree should public and private funds be invested to conduct R&D to improve unit processes? This question can be examined from at least two perspectives: technical and economic.

Manufacturing has long been recognized as crucial to the economic health of a nation (Compton, 1988). The U.S. manufacturing sector contributes approximately one-fifth of the gross domestic product, directly employs a work force of over 19 million in 360,000 companies, and supports an additional 25 million workers in related industries (Manufacturing Subcouncil, 1993).

It has been forecasted that future economic success will be primarily driven by effective use of technology and the skill base of the work force (Thurow, 1992). Historical patterns of economic development (e.g., abundance of natural resources, established sources of capital, etc.) may not then be the future dominant drivers of competitive advantage. As evidence of these trends, global sourcing of raw materials is becoming commonplace, and capital markets are financing industrial development throughout the world.

Four studies published within the last several years have discussed the critical importance of technology to the economic future and security of the nation and the requirements for their timely research, development, and implementation. Each study was based on a different perspective:

  • the Department of Defense looked at future weapon system superiority (DoD, 1990);


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--> 15 Technical And Economic Contexts Unit manufacturing processes are the building blocks of a nation's manufacturing capability. They are the individual steps required to produce finished goods by transforming raw material and adding value to the workpiece as it becomes a finished product. The effectiveness and efficiency of unit processes are, therefore, key determinants of total production costs. Given their importance, to what degree should public and private funds be invested to conduct R&D to improve unit processes? This question can be examined from at least two perspectives: technical and economic. Manufacturing has long been recognized as crucial to the economic health of a nation (Compton, 1988). The U.S. manufacturing sector contributes approximately one-fifth of the gross domestic product, directly employs a work force of over 19 million in 360,000 companies, and supports an additional 25 million workers in related industries (Manufacturing Subcouncil, 1993). It has been forecasted that future economic success will be primarily driven by effective use of technology and the skill base of the work force (Thurow, 1992). Historical patterns of economic development (e.g., abundance of natural resources, established sources of capital, etc.) may not then be the future dominant drivers of competitive advantage. As evidence of these trends, global sourcing of raw materials is becoming commonplace, and capital markets are financing industrial development throughout the world. Four studies published within the last several years have discussed the critical importance of technology to the economic future and security of the nation and the requirements for their timely research, development, and implementation. Each study was based on a different perspective: the Department of Defense looked at future weapon system superiority (DoD, 1990);

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--> the Department of Commerce looked at emerging technologies that are expected to have major economic importance by the year 2000 (DoC, 1990); the Office of Science and Technology Policy looked at technologies critical to national economic prosperity and national security (National Critical Technologies Panel, 1991); and the Council on Competitiveness looked at technologies critical for U.S. industrial productivity and economic growth (Council on Competitiveness, 1991). The technology areas of advanced materials and manufacturing were identified as critical technologies in each of these reports. "Advanced materials" includes a diverse group of materials, such as structural ceramics and composites, biomaterials, and superconductors. Process capabilities to cost-effectively produce the properties needed for specific applications are key technologies required for commercialization of these materials. Such capabilities depend on a thorough understanding of the fundamentals of the unit processes. Thus near-net shaping, ultraclean processing, and artificially structured materials are essential for future competitiveness. The areas of manufacturing designated as critical include flexible computer-integrated manufacturing, manufacturing systems management, and intelligent processing equipment, as well as microfabrication and nanofabrication. In order for these critical technologies to be fully developed and exploited in the marketplace, substantial process knowledge will be required. Other critical technologies, such as sensors, advanced computation, and materials, are also important to the development of manufacturing technologies. In addition, advanced simulation and modeling technology is crucial to improved process understanding. Applying these technologies in the manufacturing environment is essential to securing the long-term competitiveness of U.S. manufacturing. Many of the other critical technologies in the above referenced reports are related to manufacturing, either as areas of application of manufacturing technology or as technologies that support or enable future development of manufacturing. For example, advanced materials, biotechnology, transportation, information, and communications all rely on manufacturing technologies for production of their respective materials and equipment. On the other hand, many of these technology groups are the keys to advanced manufacturing (e.g., computer-integrated manufacturing requires information and communications). Thus, advanced manufacturing technologies are interwoven with the critical technologies. The current status and projected future trends of the critical technologies, relative to those of Japan and Europe, are discussed in the Department of Commerce report (DoC, 1990). For each technology, the report assessed whether

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--> its status and its projected trend in the United States were ahead, even, or behind the status and trend of competitors. A similar comparison was made by the Council on Competitiveness (1991), which judged the present position of several material processing technologies, production systems, and process equipment categories. While these assessments were done at a high level and may be overly simplistic, taken as a whole they raised concern about the condition of manufacturing technologies in the United States. Several generalizations emerge from reviewing the characteristics of the technologies in each grouping. Those technologies for which the United States was judged as being globally competitive (i.e., ahead of the rest of the world) typically fit one or more of the following descriptions: The transition from research to commercialization was relatively short, without lengthy intermediate development stages. (An example is the development of catalytic materials.) Capital investment needs were not substantial for initial implementations. (Examples are sensor technologies.) Individual innovation was a key factor in their beginnings. (An example is artificial intelligence.) The R&D funding of these technologies was sponsored by government or encouraged by government policies such as environmental regulations. (Examples are emissions controls.) Private sector funding was used to leverage government funding at critical junctures during the development stage. (Examples are magnetic materials.) Those technologies for which the United States was judged not to be globally competitive can be typified by the opposite characteristics. These technologies generally had one or more of the following conditions: They did not enjoy robust R&D support (either private or public). They had high capital requirements. They required lengthy, extensive development for their applications to become commercially available. According to the data in Table 15-1, many of these weak technologies are related to the manufacturing sector. Industrial manufacturing-related R&D, and its transition to production, depends on engineers and shop personnel who are well trained in the science and engineering of unit processes. An educated, skilled work force can be the dominant competitive advantage for companies and nations. However, the typical engineering student in the United States does not

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--> TABLE 15-1 Engineering and Production Technologies TECHNOLOGY U.S. POSITION   Strong Competitive Weak Losing Badly Lost Design and Engineering Tools           Computer-Aided Engineering •         Human Factors Engineering   •       Leading-Edge Scientific Instruments       •   Measurement Techniques   •       Structural Dynamics   •       Systems Engineering •         Commercialization and Production System           Computer-Integrated Manufacturing   •       Design for Manufacturing     •     Design of Manufacturing Processes     •     Flexible Manufacturing     •     Integration of Research, Design, and Manufacturing     •     Total Quality Management     •     Process Equipment           Advanced Welding   •       High-Speed Machining       •   Integrated Circuit Fabrication and Test Equipment         • Joining and Fastening Technologies   •       Precision Bearings       •   Precision Machining and Forming       •   Robotics and Automated Equipment         •   SOURCE: Council on Competitiveness, 1991.

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--> sufficiently study the close synergistic relationship between design and manufacturing (NRC, 1993). As a result of these trends, the committee determined that there are at least three key factors contributing to manufacturing competitiveness and productivity. Lack of attention to any of these factors will be detrimental to competitiveness. They are development of process technologies (the subject of this report); investment in manufacturing facilities; and education and training of the work force.

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--> References Council on Competitiveness. 1991. Gaining New Ground: Technology Priorities for America's Future. Washington, D.C.: Council on Competitiveness. DoC (U.S. Department of Commerce). 1990. Emerging Technologies: A Survey of Technical and Economic Opportunities. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. DoD (U.S. Department of Defense). 1990. Critical Technologies Plan. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. Eagar, T., and C. Fine. 1992. Does the Drop in Manufacturing Employment Mean We're Less Competitive? Leaders for Manufacturing Program Newsletter. Boston, Massachusetts: Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Manufacturing Subcouncil. 1993. Forging the Future: Policy for American Manufacturing. Manufacturing Subcouncil to the Competitiveness Policy Council. Washington, D.C., March:(207). NAE (National Academy of Engineering). 1988. Design and Analysis of Integrated Manufacturing Systems. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. National Critical Technologies Panel. 1991. Report of the National Critical Technologies Panel. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office. National Science Board. 1991. Science and Engineering Indicators. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. Nelson, R.R. 1993. National Innovation Systems: A Comparative Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press. NRC (National Research Council). 1993. Commercialialization of Materials for a Global Economy. National Materials Advisory Board, NRC. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Thurow, L. 1992. Head to Head: The Coming Economic Battle Among Japan, Europe, and America. New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.