The preceeding parts of this report have described what unit processes are, discussed their importance to the national economy, explained their critical research needs, and suggested opportunities for further R&D. This final section discusses the contexts in which unit process R&D is conducted and the results implemented by industry.
Chapter 15, "Technical and Economic Contexts," provides background information regarding the importance of process technology in enhancing the global competitiveness of the United States. The chapter summarizes the rationale of why future technology-driven competitiveness may depend more on new process technologies and less on new product technologies. In line with this shifting of priorities, the work force supporting manufacturing endeavors will have to be educated and trained in manufacturing technologies to allow industry to gain maximum advantage from the advanced process technologies described in parts II and III of this report.
Chapter 16, "Resources in Unit Process Research and Education," examines key issues associated with the availability of resources within industry and the federal government to fund the many opportunities for unit process R&D. It also discusses the different roles for universities in unit process research, trends in education, and mechanisms for industry-university interaction.
Chapter 17, "International Experience," examines key elements of manufacturing-related research, implementation mechanisms, and unit process focus for several highly industrialized countries and regions: Germany, Japan, and Europe (excluding Germany). It summarizes the key elements of the strategies employed by those countries.
- Several high-level measures indicate that the United States is underfunding both unit process R&D and education and training of the workforce. Particular care must be taken to direct available funding at the most promising opportunities and most pressing educational needs.
- Even though this report primarily addresses the development of unit process technologies, the committee does not believe that process technologies alone will contribute to overall improvements in manufacturing competitiveness. The nation must possess an educated, motivated workforce and industries committed to making appropriate investments in manufacturing facilities and equipment. Therefore, a national emphasis on manufacturing must address at least three factors: unit process technologies, workforce education, and implementation.
- Government agencies involved in sponsoring R&D in manufacturing processes (e.g., National Science Foundation, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and National Institute for Standards and Technology) together should carefully evaluate the kinds of manufacturing R&D being supported and the relative funding levels for defense and nondefense R&D. This evaluation could also examine the extent to which other leading industrial countries, notably Germany and Japan, have been effective in commercializing unit process technology, given their investment in research that is related to manufacturing which is considerably higher (as a proportion of their gross domestic product) than that of the United States.
- The committee recommends that incentives be found and implemented to increase the number of students majoring in manufacturing-related technology at universities, so that sufficient trained personnel are available to exploit research opportunities in unit processes and to guide their industrial implementation. For example, the National Science Foundation could convene a study group to determine the appropriate educational incentives in the context of expected technical opportunities, industry needs, and employment opportunities. One incentive that would quickly attract high caliber students would be an increase in the number of fellowships available to those specializing in manufacturing.