Manufacturing the Future
The ERC program is a particularly good example of how
NSF brings together the discovery-driven culture of engineering.
Manufacturers applaud NSF's efforts because they recognize that
coming up with new systems and products is a much more complex
and expensive venture than ever before, and they need the help
of university-based researchers in order to build the science
base for future advancements.
For example, it takes about a billion dollars to develop a new semiconductor chip capable of the kind of performance required in, say, high-definition television. That level of investmentthat level of riskdeters even the most ambitious American companies from doing the kind of pioneering research necessary to keep them globally competitive. NSF's role as a catalyst for government-industry-academia collaboration is vital for the nation's economic well-being.
"You need a partnership," says NSF Deputy Director, Joseph Bordogna. "You need new knowledge out of universities and labs, new processes from industry, and a government willing to enable it all through appropriate R&D policy and frontier research and education investment, by and for the citizenry."
NSF's efforts to bridge the worlds of industry and academe reflect another truth about modern manufacturing: Knowledge and ideas are the most important raw materials.
"It's no longer profitable just to ship a piece of metal out the front door," industry analyst Graham Vickery told Industry Week. "What you're doing now is shipping some sort of component that requires things like support services, or advice, or design skills, or engineering know-how" in order for the component to be of actual use at the other end.
Finding innovative ways to handle information is now manufacturing's chief concern. "If you understand that today manufacturing is an enterprise-wide production process," says Eugene Wong, "you see that information management will assume an increasingly important role, one that may already have transcended the importance of transforming materials into products."
With NSF's help, American manufacturers are making the changes necessary to stay competitive in a marketplace increasingly dominated by e-commerce, while at the same time honoring the traditional core of manufacturing's purpose: the innovation of new technologies and products for an expectant public.