Collaborating to Meet Manufacturing Challenges
National Center for Manufacturing Sciences
The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) is a not-for-profit research, information, and education consortium that provides value-added products and services to enable collaboration and learning among manufacturers. NCMS brings manufacturers and other organizations together to solve common problems, as well as to host forums and discussions that lead to collaborative learning and advancement of manufacturing. NCMS is the largest cross-industry consortium in the nation with over 150 member companies, including General Electric, Raytheon, DaimlerChrysler, Boeing, Eaton, Delphi Automotive Systems, General Motors, and Microsoft. However, most NCMS members are small and medium-sized companies from all sectors of the economy. One strength of NCMS is its diversity. This diversity facilitates collaboration by allowing companies to work with others outside of their own industrial sector.
NCMS also maintains strong partnerships with the public sector, including programs with the Department of Defense (DoD), the Department of Energy (DOE), the Department of Commerce, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Science Foundation. NCMS has 16 years of experience with public-private sector collaborations, including 40 cooperative research and development agreements and memoranda of understanding; 116 DoD projects totaling $300 million; and 6 National Institute of Standards and Technology Advanced Technology Program projects totaling $115 million. NCMS public-private projects received the prestigious R&D 100 Award for four consecutive years.
NCMS identifies its core competency as a “venture catalyst.” NCMS identifies needs, creates projects, manages intellectual property, and manages the legal and financial side of collaborations so that the organizations involved can get on with the business of collaboration. NCMS has a diverse array of experts, including scientists and engineers from many industrial fields. Another strength of NCMS is the fact that it acts as a neutral broker. By acting as a disinterested third party with no interest in selling a particular technical solution or outcome, NCMS can serve as a buffer between the government and industry, thereby facilitating collaboration.
One of NCMS’ public-private partnerships is the Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities (CTMA) program. This collaboration between NCMS and DoD’s maintenance facilities introduces commercial manufacturing technologies into the nation’s depots, shipyards, and air logistic centers. DoD has weapon systems, aircraft, and ships that are running well past their planned lives. Successful sustainment and maintenance of these aging weapon systems involves innovative manufacturing solutions. NCMS works in partnership with the maintenance facilities to solve manufacturing challenges with commercial solutions while advancing the state of technology in both the public and private sector.
NCMS works with EPA on compliance assistance issues. NCMS reaches out to small and medium-sized companies to ensure that they can meet current EPA regulations and to help them meet future challenges. In collaborations with DOE, NCMS is in the forefront of alternative energy research, including fuel cells. In addition, NCMS works with DOE in looking at innovative ways to reduce energy consumption in the manufacturing enterprise.
Two NCMS programs are the Knowledge Solutions program and the Manufacturing Trust. The Knowledge Solutions program offers affordable, full-featured learning and communications services for member companies and the manufacturing community at large. NCMS creates e-learning tools and customizes them to fit the needs of the customer in an efficient and cost-effective manner. The Manufacturing Trust is the newest program area for NCMS. This program is a resource for industry members who share a common interest in improving their ability to defend the integrity of their critical infrastructure systems and trusted collaboration environments. The program provides access to advances and best practices that address critical infrastructure risks, threats, and opportunities for the manufacturing industry while striving to build trust among participants.
The landscape of manufacturing is ever changing. Previously, companies had large capital budgets that enabled them to easily make decisions to ramp up production or put in new production lines. Today, due to limited budgets, investments are being scaled back and enterprises are dealing with declining resources for capital investments. Formerly, automation was used to solve a problem. More technology was considered a good thing. Today, companies are increasingly aware of the benefits of having a good balance between machines and workforce. Previously, it was assumed that every problem had a technology solution, that it was just a matter of finding the right machine, system, or practice. Today, decisions must be balanced with business priorities and people priorities. The old model of a manufacturing enterprise was based on complex, integrated systems that produced all parts for an end product in-house. The new model of a manufacturing enterprise is simpler, modular, and looks at innovative production methods to achieve greater benefits.
For a long time, U.S. manufacturers were complacent about their position in the international manufacturing community. Today, however, there is greater interest in collaboration, sharing the risk, and sharing the cost. Previously, the arrival of a new technology would intimidate the workforce and cause them to feel insecure about their jobs. Today, these technologies are made invisible to the workforce to achieve efficiencies without intimidating the workforce.
21ST CENTURY CHALLENGES TO INDUSTRY
The manufacturing industry is currently facing a number of challenges. Increasing demands by primaries on their supply chains is one of the biggest challenges. For example, R&D requirements are being pushed further down the supply chain by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). R&D that was previously done in-house by a large company such as General Motors is now required of first-, second-, and even third-tier suppliers, who often don’t have the resources to conduct such R&D. In addition, the primaries are increasingly requiring best business practices from their supplier base. Those practices thus become necessary for companies to do business with the OEMs.
Another important issue is that of global sourcing and logistics. Companies that are dependent on overseas, or even nonlocal, suppliers, face challenges regarding delivery times, shipping, communications, warranty issues, and more. With global sourcing on the rise and
travel budgets being decreased, information conductivity is becoming increasingly important within industries, as well as between companies and their suppliers and customer base.
Information and infrastructure assurance within a manufacturing enterprise will become increasingly important in the coming years. Every manufacturing facility has taken steps for physical security—i.e., fences, guards, and badges—to ensure that persons entering the premises have legitimate business with the company. Less attention has been paid, however, to the security of all other critical infrastructures within the company. Last year, NCMS hosted a meeting with NIST to explore vulnerabilities in the manufacturing enterprise. The original plan was to publish the results of the meeting to raise awareness among manufacturers about the issues. However, the meeting results turned out to be, in essence, a handbook for how to shut down and disable a manufacturing enterprise. Wisely, the group decided not to make this information publicly available. To ensure operational continuity and continued productivity, companies must pay more attention to their vulnerabilities and must take steps to protect their critical assets.
Environmental issues are becoming increasingly important for reasons other than EPA and conventional environmental regulations. Customers are considering the impacts that the products they buy have on the environment. This drives purchase decisions regarding which products to buy and which companies to do business with. Europe, Japan, and some U.S. jurisdictions have become proactive environmentally and have passed laws requiring manufacturers to be responsible for the life of their products. For instance, even if an automobile passes through six owners, the manufacturer has responsibility for disposal or recycling at the end of the vehicle’s useful life. Forward-thinking U.S. companies have already faced this new paradigm by beginning to design and manufacture for total life-cycle responsibility and by developing take-back strategies for their products.
A number of technologies are getting a lot of attention from both politicians and the press even though they are fairly novel and do not yet exist as industries. Nanotechnology, for example, is an industry still in its infancy, with not even a degree being offered in the discipline. According to a venture capitalist who helped build Nanophase Technology Corporation, the first nanotechnology firm, funding for the company was an act of youthful naiveté because it just wasn’t ready to be a commercial company.
Manufacturability must be considered as the design and innovation process proceeds for these new technologies. Currently, little thought is being given to cost-effective production systems. For example, in the area of fuel cells and hydrogen energy, much attention has been given to demonstrating the technology. However, little thought has been given to the design for manufacturability of fuel cell units so that they can be produced efficiently and cost effectively. In addition, for the fuel cell idea to take hold in automobiles, a national infrastructure to handle refueling of hydrogen cars must be developed.
Homeland security has become very important. With the new challenges facing the nation, new technology requirements have emerged to deal with terrorism as well as chemical and biological threats. Many companies are feverishly working to develop solutions and innovative ways for dealing with these new problems. However, little thought is being given to efficient and cost-effective manufacturability of these technologies, without which they cannot be deployed widely and quickly. The same challenges are facing emerging sectors like microelectromechanical systems and smart materials. To ensure that the United States retains its lead in these sectors, more attention must be paid to design for manufacturability.
MEETING THE MANUFACTURING CHALLENGES
In order to succeed, manufacturing companies must think about how to deal in future with the above challenges. NCMS offers an effective method of dealing with these challenges: collaboration, or partnering with a purpose.
The three R’s in collaboration are risk, resources, and resistance. Companies are motivated to collaborate by the reduction in risk, time, and cost involved in developing and deploying new technologies. In addition, collaboration helps a company to be “first to be second.” No company wants to be the first to try a new product or process and risk the associated growing pains. Collaboration allows a group of companies to share the risks involved and facilitate the rapid adoption of a new technology. There is risk in sharing resources with a competitor or sharing company secrets with a supplier, but there is also the risk of falling behind if you don’t. The best way to get a company to become involved in NCMS is by telling them that their competitors are engaged.
Collaboration requires resources from the company. While a company must commit internal resources to the collaborative project, these are much less than they would be if the project were undertaken alone. By cost-sharing, companies reduce the resources needed to accomplish their technological objectives. Finally, resistance is part of collaboration. Initially, there is resistance to getting involved at all. Once this resistance is overcome, quite often the resistance is from within the company itself. Collaboration is a new way of doing business, and often the legal and financial departments must be educated as well regarding the benefits in order to overcome resistance.
FUTURE MANUFACTURING PARADIGMS
The manufacturing enterprise in 2020 and beyond must adapt to work within the new manufacturing paradigms that are now being created. The better, faster, cheaper paradigm will remain a driving force as companies manage shorter cycle times, increased quality requirements, and customer demands for lower costs. Successful companies will be the ones that can strike a balance between these three challenges.
A broader concept of manufacturing will be used in the future, including software to convert information and materials into useful products, biotechnology in the manufacturing process, and aspects of agribusiness that complement the production process. Creativity and innovation will be the bases for this new concept as societal structures become more knowledge-based, dynamic, fluid, and globally distributed.
“Global swarming” is another future manufacturing paradigm. Previously, for example, in the manufacture of an automobile, ore entered the factory at one end and a car exited at the other. All production was done in one location. Today, the enterprise is dispersed, with smaller units everywhere all working for the collective, or swarm. An automobile company now has suppliers making parts and subsystems all over the world and many research and design functions done remotely, but still controlled by the “swarm.” Issues of logistics and supply chains, among other things, become a challenge, but efficiencies are also increased. The same capital equipment can produce more. In addition, this manufacturing model enables tremendous agility and robustness, while requiring central coordination for effective production.
Increasingly, companies must consider how to transfer knowledge from an aging workforce. As experts with vast corporate knowledge exit the workforce, methods must be developed to ensure that institutional memory is captured and made available to future employees. In addition, an aging workforce in the manufacturing sector will focus employer attention on ergonomic and workforce flexibility issues in order to maintain productivity.
Keeping the future manufacturing enterprise secure is critical and should be a high priority for all manufacturers, although it is not currently at the top of the list for most companies. In future, environmental pressures will increase in importance. This increase in importance will not be driven by EPA alone, but will be driven by regulations being implemented by our trading partners. The product take-back legislation mentioned earlier is an example of overseas markets driving environmental concerns in the United States.
In conclusion, all of these paradigms and many others are shaping the future of manufacturing in the United States. The companies that will succeed are the ones that envision the future and start preparing now. As the great hockey player Wayne Gretsky said, “You don’t need to go where the puck is, but where it is going to be.”