In 2010, a sub-committee of the U.S. government’s National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) issued a requirement for the development of a national strategic plan for advanced manufacturing, which is to be updated every four years. The recent update to the strategic plan, released in October of 2018 has three key goals: develop and transition new manufacturing technologies; educate, train, and connect the manufacturing workforce; and expand the capabilities of the domestic manufacturing supply chain ().
The ultimate purpose, of course, is to support the revitalization of the manufacturing sector, bringing back jobs that have been lost over the last several decades. A strong manufacturing sector is considered a vital strategic priority. The strategic plan recognizes that manufacturing has changed over that span of time and continues to change, thus the emphasis on new technologies. And those technologies demand different and higher skill levels for those future manufacturing employees. “This strategic plan is motivated by the factors that impact innovation and competitiveness for advanced manufacturing,” the strategy document says. “Rapid advances in technology, in combination with economic forces, are changing the ways products and services are conceived, designed, made, distributed, and supported.” Another part of the report states: “Pervasive networking and recent advances in machine learning, biotechnology, and materials science are creating new opportunities for global competition in manufacturing based on scientific and technological innovation.” Citing America’s strength is scientific and technological innovation, the report concludes: “American must protect and leverage this strength to rapidly and efficiently develop and transition new manufacturing technologies into practice within our domestic industrial base and international allies.”
Among the objectives outlined in the report, an emphasis is placed on intelligent manufacturing systems, developing world-leading materials and processing technologies, and maintaining leadership in electronics design and fabrication as well as food and agricultural manufacturing. The committee sees smart and digital manufacturing, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, and cybersecurity in manufacturing as key facets in the pursuit of advanced manufacturing capabilities.
In an indirect nod to Digital Manufacturing and the Digital Thread, the report states “tremendous new productivity gains” can only be brought about “…if information technology systems can be successfully integrated with plant floor operational technologies.”
Specific actions called out in the report include enabling the use of big data analytics and advanced sensing and control technologies in manufacturing, prioritizing support for real-time modeling and simulation to predict and improve product performance and reliability, and developing standards to enable the integration between smart manufacturing components and platforms.
It’s all well and good, and often helpful for the government to do the analysis and set policies and strategies for the future, but manufacturing is in the private sector and government does not dictate strategy and investments there. So policies like these are suggestions more than mandates. Nevertheless, government has a history of using incentives in the form of institutes to coordinate and encourage technological research and development, as well as contracts and grants to support private sector work. Proof of that approach exists in the form of Institutes that are supporting work in additive manufacturing, digital manufacturing and design, smart manufacturing systems, robotics, and many more that “have significantly accelerated and de-risked the development of new technologies for U.S. manufacturers,” as stated in the updated strategy document.