ADVANCED MANUFACTURING technology is emerging as a major corporate advantage in world trade. Strategic application of such technology can markedly improve manufacturers ' product quality, reponsiveness to customers, process control and flexibility, and flexibility of capital investment—all determinants of global manufacturing competitiveness.
Progress in U.S. manufacturing technologies and competitiveness faces significant barriers: inflexible organizations; inadequate technology; inappropriate performance measures; and lack of appreciation for the importance of manufacturing. These barriers are addressed in this report of the Committee on Analysis of Research Directions and Needs in U.S. Manufacturing, Manufacturing Studies Board, Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, National Research Council. The report identifies and analyzes research needs in five critical areas of manufacturing: intelligent manufacturing control, equipment reliability and maintenance, advanced engineered materials, manufacturing skills improvement, and the product realization process.
Intelligent manufacturing control requires research in several areas. They include: sensor technology in data integration and pattern recognition; adaptable knowledge bases of design, manufacturing, and management intelligence; and creation of a dynamic model of manufacturing.
Equipment reliability and maintenance programs are underutilized in this country largely because of manufacturing managers' lack
of awareness of their economic benefits. Technology problems associated with these programs are more tractable than the associated people problems.
Needs in advanced engineered materials include integration of processing methods into the design and development of new materials from the beginning. A need exists also to instill sensitivity to materials ' properties into process design schemes.
The product realization process—from initial idea through marketing—has research needs in three areas: developing intelligent product images, establishing the requisite connections among them, and devising an organizational structure in which these concepts can be made operational.
Manufacturing skills improvement is critical to advanced manufacturing technology with its need for work-force skills that U.S. schools are neither cultivating nor preparing students to acquire. The first need is basic literacy. The goal is a manufacturing work force with multidisciplinary skills of a high order.
Fruitful pursuit of the recommended research could transform U.S. manufacturing. Potential results include:
Highly specialized processing of metals, ceramics, and polymers to yield radical improvements in materials' strength and toughness;
Equipment operators working synergistically with intelligent control systems that are capable of predicting, preventing, or automatically remedying equipment failure;
Autonomous manufacturing control systems that exploit human powers of perception, pattern recognition, and problem-solving in conjunction with machine capacity for manipulating vast amounts of data;
Global information systems that enable electronic virtual enterprises to access and coordinate the localized design and manufacturing capabilities of village industries all over the world; and
Production handled by highly skilled professionals working as components of human–machine systems that are linked integrally with management functions.
To achieve such results the manufacturing community must learn from and adopt the fruits of the research proposed, and the nation must reinvigorate its educational system. Manufacturing would then come to be viewed as a national asset and careers in manufacturing would be highly regarded.