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Influence of Information Technologies
Looking at just one of these contributing disciplines, we can see that information technology has been a powerful driver of innovation in manufacturing. Design and manufacture of new products requires processing of huge amounts of information to ensure quality, satisfy customer needs, and meet environmental standards. Increasingly, manufacturers are using information technology for modeling and simulation to construct “virtual” tools and factories, allowing factory design to proceed in parallel with product design. Similarly, computer networking helps manufacturers integrate all aspects of their operations, from design and processing to the assembly line, shipping, and marketing. These applications of information technology reduce the time and cost of developing and testing new products and allow them to reach their markets faster and more efficiently.

Manufacturers are increasingly incorporating computers and other forms of technology into the workplace, both on the factory floor and on the office desktop. This has increased productivity, which in turn, has boosted worker compensation. Since the fourth quarter of 1995, nonfarm business productivity growth has averaged 2.1 percent. Nowadays it is difficult to identify a “low-tech” manufacturer: 84 percent of manufacturers use computer-aided design (CAD); 63 percent have incorporated local area networks (LANs) into their operations; and 62 percent have adopted “just-in-time” inventory techniques.

Before a company starts full-scale manufacturing of a product, it builds prototypes with the same specifications as those of the planned product. The prototypes are used for testing and verification of the design and error-proofing manufacturing assembly. Older methods for constructing individual prototypes were expensive and time-consuming, adding substantially to the time between product concept and delivery. Today, rapid prototyping reduces prototype development time from months to days, greatly shortening the time to market of new products.

In addition, increasing productivity and capturing a world market depend on “agility” in manufacturing —
setting up manufacturing enterprises to adapt products rapidly to changing marketing opportunities in the most efficient way. Companies are finding ways to perfect “just-in-time” procedures in assembly, inventory, and delivery, so that resources — including human effort — are applied when they are needed, but not until then. This approach requires rapid flow and application of information roughout the supply chain. The end result is substantial increases in productivity, as reflected in savings of money and manpower throughout the manufacturing sector.

Federal Support for R&D
For several decades, the Federal government has supported research relevant to various manufacturing sectors. The government also provides economic and technical information to manufacturers, and it establishes and nurtures partnerships and consortiums involving universities, private manufacturers, and broader industry groups. For example, the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Stan-dards and Technology (NIST) is a key supplier of technologies and services integral to manufacturing capabilities. Results of NIST research lead to industry-accepted test and measurement methods, process models, interface standards, and other useful tools that contribute to effective operations and quality products across a wide range of manufacturing industries. The capabilities that they support often set the technical limits on what can be accomplished on the factory floor, in the research and development laboratory, or with suppliers and customers. American companies depend on NIST tools and services for hundreds of millions of measurements each day.

Nanotechnology and Beyond
Today’s research provides a glimpse of the future of manufacturing. Scientists are now able to see things at the molecular level, and are rapidly gaining the ability to manipulate materials and processes at the nano-level. (A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, tens of thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair.) In the emerging field of nanotechnology, researchers are working to find ways to change the very composition of materials to emphasize desired characteristics such as strength or flexibility. Nanotechnology holds tremendous promise for the future of manufacturing, signaling a new ability to custom-design materials that manufacturers might need for specific purposes. Within an estimated one to three decades, nanofabrication processes will move from the laboratory to the assembly line, and new nano-materials will find countless new applications in products and processes that will achieve even greater efficiencies and quality levels.

We can even expect to see molecular-size switches for computer circuits; “machines” no bigger than a few atoms; surgical tools that can operate on an individual cell in the human body; and molecular robots that doctors can inject into the bloodstream, where they will seek out and destroy cancer cells. Nano-engineers are already envisioning “self-assembling” devices that will rebuild copies of themselves, molecule by molecule, following programmed instructions.

Today, U.S.-based manufacturing extends its global market share leadership mostly through high-tech exports such as computers, semiconductors, software, aircraft, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, on-line services, telecommunications, and precision instruments. We are beginning to transform manufacturing processes and equipment by intelligent sensors and control systems, rapid prototyping capabilities, and pollution avoidance technologies. America’s leadership in manufacturing has not been without global challenges, but we are witnessing a surge of innovation that will enhance our nation’s global economic manufacturing capability.

As newly developing fields such as nanotechnology, fiber optics, robotics, and computer modeling continue to yield breakthroughs in products and processes, we will undoubtedly see even more dramatic changes in the coming century. Even if what is being manufactured is the same 30 years from now, it’s a safe bet that how it’s manufactured will be cleaner, more efficient, and more productive.

Wherever we turn in our daily lives, we constantly encounter reminders of the contributions of science and technology. From the familiar (for example, a phone call via optical fiber cable) to the astonishing (the successful cloning of Dolly the sheep), examples abound of technology’s pervasiveness. As a society, we will wrestle with moral and ethical questions raised by some of the newest capabilities we have developed, such as stem cell research or genetically modified foods. But we should remember that much of what we now take for granted as gifts from science and technology could not have been foreseen decades earlier, and would not have been available without vigilance in research and development funding.

If we are to continue to enjoy beneficial breakthroughs from scientists and researchers, we must make sure that we continue to fund essential research and development activities across a broad spectrum of scientific disciplines. Only by supporting research where the returns are not guaranteed can we ensure the steady, gradual progress that underpins the front-page news stories that accompany each new success. It is ironic that such open-ended research, whose cost-effectiveness is often difficult to guarantee, sometimes generates the greatest economic returns. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan expressed this very point in the summer of 1999 when he said, “The evidence…for a technology-driven rise in the prospective rate of return on new capital, and an associated acceleration in labor productivity, is compelling, if not conclusive.” The President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, in issuing this report, urges all Americans — from Capitol Hill to Main Street — to do all they can to support continued Federal funding for science and technology, so that our grandchildren can continue to benefit from the same wellspring of prosperity.

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