Manufacturers face a major challenge today with globalization greatly expanding the availability of new markets, while simultaneously spurring intense competition. New technologies are a promising solution to this challenge by enabling the creation of new and improved products with speed and quality not possible just a few years ago. But, at the same time, the proliferation of technology solutions has greatly increased the complexity of making good manufacturing decisions. Also, the cost of making an incorrect technology decision can be devastating. To address this dilemma of U.S. manufacturers, the Integrated Manufacturing Technology Roadmapping initiative (IMTR) was launched in 1998. The following provides an overview of this new U.S. government initiative.
The IMTR initiative is being sponsored by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), National Science Foundation (NSF), and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Their motivation comes from the need to build a stronger U.S. manufacturing infrastructure. The IMTR initiative was launched to develop a research and development agenda that:
- defines key technology goals that cut across all manufacturing sectors,
- provides focus for concentrated effort to achieve the goals and
- Promotes collaborative R & D in support of critical requirements.
IMTR will define future manufacturing requirements and outline solution paths to meet requirements in four interrelated areas:
- Information Systems for Manufacturing Enterprise
- Modeling and Simulation for Manufacturing
- Manufacturing Process & Equipment
- Technologies for Enterprise Integration
A common vision of what the future manufacturing enterprise will be has emerged, and participants will use this to develop the IMTR roadmaps. This vision involves how future enterprises will interact with their customers, partners, suppliers, and other stakeholders. The key enablers of this vision, as defined in the IMTR Executive Summary, are as follows.
- Integrated Enterprise Management—Fully interconnected, model-based engineering, manufacturing, and business systems will ensure the right information is available wherever and whenever needed across the enterprise.
- Fully Integrated, Optimized Product Realization—Intelligent design and manufacturing systems linked to a rich base of science and experience-based knowledge will enable products and processes to be conceived and optimized for performance, cost-effectiveness, and quality with no iterative physical prototyping.
- Plug-and-Play Interoperability—All systems that support the manufacturing enterprise's diverse functions will be seamlessly compatible and self-integrating. New software or equipment can be "plugged in" to a manufacturing or business system and be operational immediately, with zero integration cost.
- Seamless, Flexible Distributed Operation—Self-integrating systems, shared knowledge bases, and a robust communications infrastructure will enable widely distributed operations to interoperate in real time, regardless of geographic separation.
- Intelligent, Efficient, Precision Processes—The ability to measure, analyze, and control processes in uncertain conditions will mature to the point that all processes will operate intelligently in close-loop environments with complete assurance of quality. Improved processing technology, optimized product and process design, and life-cycle responsibility will enable zero net waste.
- Science-Based Manufacturing—Improved understanding and shared knowledge of the scientific foundations for material and process interactions will support optimized process design and total understanding of complex transformations and interactions at the micro and macro levels.
Some companies have already developed roadmaps to define a path for the future of their industry. Roadmapping has proven to be a valuable strategy to assure that investments are well placed. However, many of these previous roadmaps identify infrastructure issues as major barriers to progress with little or no concerted effort to attack the barriers—that is until now. IMTR is a project worth staying informed about.