Lowering technology barriers could save manufacturers $100 billion

NIST study finds smart manufacturing, robotics show greatest potential.
By Bob Vavra, CFE Media December 2, 2016

NIST engineer Jeremy Marvel adjusts a robotic arm used to study human-robot interactions. According to a NIST economic study on advanced robotics and automation—one of four reports on advanced manufacturing—Marvel’s work is the type of research needed toIdentifying what it called "gaps in the technological infrastructure," a recent report by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) found that manufacturing could save more than $100 billion annually by implementing more advanced manufacturing strategies and systems.

In a joint project with international research institute RTI International, NIST officials said the lack of measurement science and what it called "proof of concept" for the emerging technologies is costing U.S. manufacturing money and delaying the benefits that could be realized by the implementations.

"Gaps in the technology infrastructure-including the lack of reliable measurement and test methods, scientifically based standards, and other formal knowledge and tools-limit advanced manufacturing’s further development and adoption," said NIST economist Gary Anderson, who coordinated the economic studies, in a press release.

The study found three keys areas where technologies barriers need to be lowered.

They include:

Keeping standards and performance measures nonproprietary.

Using public research institutions to develop those tools.

Working with manufacturing research groups and technology extension service to "ensure that all manufacturers-especially small- and medium-sized enterprises-can access them."

The study identified significant savings in more rapid advancement of technologies. The two largest potential areas of cost savings and production improvements are in robotics and in smart manufacturing, which NIST defined as using electronically exchanged and processed manufacturing data from design to finished product.

The overall cost savings are

  • Smart manufacturing: $57.4 billion, 3.2% reduction in production costs.
  • Advanced robotics and automation: $40.1 billion, 5.3 % reduction in production costs.
  • Additive manufacturing: $4.1 billion, 18.3% reduction in production costs
  • Roll-to-roll manufacturing: $400 million, 14.7% reduction in production costs.

In studying each of those four areas, researchers identified up to 10 critical barriers to technology adoption and looked at what eliminating those barriers might accomplish.

Anderson said that as impressive as the basic numbers might be on the surface, they actually may be conservative, since they evaluated only the direct benefits of reducing such barriers. "If we consider the larger-scale outcomes brought about by meeting these needs-such as new and improved products, increased production quality, long-term industry growth and job creation-the impacts would be significantly higher," Anderson said. "Our studies emphasize that full economic impact will only be realized if all technical needs are met, and all stakeholders regardless of size, not just large manufacturers, can share in the rewards."

-Bob Vavra, content manager, CFE Media