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National Academies Review the Manufacturing-Related Programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology

Aline D. McNaull
Number 140 - November 29, 2012  |  Search FYI  |   FYI Archives  |   Subscribe to FYI

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The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently requested that the National Research Council (NRC) assess the quality of the multidisciplinary, multi-sector, and crosscutting area of the agency’s manufacturing-related programs.  A panel chaired by Kanti Jain, physics professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that was appointed by the NRC produced the report “A Review of the Manufacturing-Related Programs at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.”  The panel of experts visited NIST during which they broadly considered manufacturing research.  Their report emphasizes three specific areas of advanced manufacturing:  Nanomanufacturing; Smart Manufacturing; and Next-Generation Materials Measurements, Modeling and Simulation. 

NIST requested that panelists examine the technical merit and scientific caliber of manufacturing programs relative to comparable programs in other countries worldwide.  Specifically, NIST requested that the assessment cover how effective current metrics are for measuring the value and success of its programs.  Panelists were also asked to assess the efficacy of NIST’s interaction with outside stakeholders and to examine coordination and cohesion across NIST advanced manufacturing programs. 

Panelists found that “the program teams [at NIST] are highly qualified and comparable to the best in the world.  Equally strong [are] the equipment and facilities that NIST laboratories have designed, procured, and built.”  They offered suggestions for program improvement which include improving the vetting process for project selection in order to pay greater attention to industry needs, ensuring that projects have a coherent focus such that related projects have aligned research efforts, and expanding and enhancing interactions with industry.  

The report provides general comments on the area of Nanomanufacturing which include potential objectives for nanomanufacturing activities.  It highlights the importance of “bankability,” the idea that many technologies are too expensive to manufacture and thus cannot be commercialized. 

The report makes the following recommendations for the area of Nanomanufacturing:

  1.  “NIST should continue to define its vision for its Nanomanufacturing program, making clear choices about what nanomanufacturing should be on the basis of the NIST mission.” 
  2. “NIST should work with industry to develop metrics for benchmarking the new, potential CMOS [complementary metal oxide semiconductor] replacement technologies.”
  3. “NIST should make careful judgments about where it positions itself with respect to device metrology supporting continuation of semiconductor technology advances.”
  4. “To play an important role with respect to the issue of bankability of new technologies, NIST should consider providing methodologies, databases, reference materials, and modeling so as to provide those in the manufacturing community (especially new entrants) with a way to evaluate their approaches independently and objectively.”
  5. “Since the structural determination of biologics may constitute a useful measurement tool for assessing the impact of modified variants on Biomanufacturing, future work should focus on developing clear goals that will test the robustness of the approach for specific protein therapeutics.”

As for the area of Smart Manufacturing, the report describes the systems approach taken by NIST in order to “see the relationship of discrete elements to the entire system, since changes to the former can impact system performance.”  The report notes that “all of the research groups in the overall area of Smart Manufacturing mentioned the need to develop focus for their areas of work.”  The programs highlighted include next-generation robotics and automation, process and equipment, control systems, systems integration for manufacturing and construction applications, sustainable manufacturing, and manufacturing with sustainable materials. 

The report makes the following recommendations for the area of Smart Manufacturing:

  1. “NIST should be more proactive at partnering with industry—particularly in the areas of Additive Manufacturing, Robotics, and Automation—to decrease the gap between industry needs and the current state of the art at NIST, to decrease the need for NIST to capitalize, and, more importantly, to decrease the gap between industry needs and NIST’s data-gathering and standards-development work.”
  2. “To foster the engagement of stakeholders in additional ways besides industry association meetings and workshops, focused visits to stakeholders to determine needs and challenges in each of the Smart Manufacturing programs should be undertaken.”
  3. “NIST should increase the engagement of stakeholders in the development of the appropriate Smart Manufacturing program goals and metrics.”
  4. “The competitiveness of the Smart Manufacturing projects reviewed should be made more appropriate to current industry practices.”

The area of Next-Generation Materials Measurements, Modeling, and Simulation is well recognized as a key area of NIST which focuses on materials instrumentation and measurements.  During the panel’s review, the members noted its high rating for technical expertise.  They also described this program’s unique position “to help co-develop constitutive models with links to industry and academia.”  The report mentions the Materials Genome Initiative at NIST as an “excellent source of fundamental information and potential repository and gatekeeper of scientific data.”   

The report makes the following recommendations for the area of Next-Generation Materials, Measurements, Modeling and Simulation:

  1. “As NIST continues its healthy collaboration with industry, its increasing focus on advanced manufacturing should proceed with additional recognition of industrial needs. Most of the projects in the area of Next-Generation Materials Measurements, Modeling, and Simulation should be market-driven, that is, based on market pull rather than on technology push. In establishing its technical portfolio, NIST should continue to seek strong partnerships with industrial consortia when these exist.”
  2. “NIST’s key manufacturing researchers should visit several manufacturing facilities each year in order to broaden their understanding of the real-world manufacturing environment.”
  3. “NIST should take advantage of the opportunity to play an important role in the multiagency Materials Genome Initiative as the potential repository and gatekeeper of scientific data from multiple sources. In the design of a next-generation materials database, strong consideration should be given to seeking a full understanding of the queries that will be made against the database so that suitable accuracy and dynamic performance can be obtained. A targeted workshop on handling data should be convened with industry and other stakeholders.”
  4. “In line with its role in external programs involving the characterization of nanoparticles for achieving a greater understanding of environmental, health, and safety issues and development of in-line nanoscale sensing and measurement capabilities, NIST should continue to take a visible role in the coordination of related external efforts in this area within the scope of its Next Generation Materials Measurements, Modeling, and Simulation work.”
  5. “In addition to facilitating cross-NIST collaboration in the area of Next-Generation Materials Measurements, Modeling, and Simulation, NIST should continue to strengthen partnerships with other research institutions and industry. The NIST postdoctoral and visiting researcher programs in these areas should be continued or perhaps even strengthened as a significant source of renewal and outreach for the permanent staff at NIST.”

The report highlights NIST’s role in national priorities “because the vast scope of manufacturing encompasses a wide array of disciplines, systems, applications, and environments” therefore “contributions made by NIST impact US industry in multiple ways.  As a result of its highly qualified researchers and advanced facilities that are a national asset, NIST is uniquely positioned to support US manufacturing broadly….  Because manufacturing covers such a wide array of disciplines, systems, applications, and environments, advancements can be made in a multitude of ways.  Recognizing these opportunities and their potential impact, companies and other organizations also are investing heavily in the pursuit of manufacturing advancements.” 

Aline D. McNaull
Government Relations Division
American Institute of Physics