Next Generation Manufacturing
Since 1976, various U.S. presidents have formed interagency councilswith gradually increasing participation from industryto try to build consensus and identify strategies in certain key areas of the economy, including manufacturing. NSF's leadership has been critical to these efforts, which most recently took the form of the Next Generation Manufacturing (NGM) Project.
NGM was funded by NSF and other federal agencies but headed by a coordinating council drawn from the manufacturing industries. In 1995, more than 500 industry experts worked together to produce a final 1997 report offering a detailed vision for the future of manufacturing. Today the NGM report forms the basis of a follow-up effort called the Integrated Manufacturing Technology Roadmap (IMTR) project, also funded by NSF and other federal agencies.
"The question that guided us," says NSF's Deputy Director , former head of NSF's Directorate for Engineering and a primary architect of NGM and other efforts to rejuvenate manufacturing in America, "is 'what principles underlie the ability of a company to continuously change itself in response to the changing marketplace?' That means figuring out adaptive, decision-making processes and software as well as manipulating materials and coming up with new machines for the factory floor."
According to the NGM report, a "next generation" manufacturer will need to transform itself from a twentieth-century-style companyone that functions as a sovereign, profit-making entityinto a twenty-first century company that is more of an extended enterprise with multiple and ever-shifting business partners. Or as Stephen R. Rosenthal, director of the Center for Enterprise Leadership, describes it, next-generation manufacturers should be companies that stretch from "the supplier's supplier to the customer's customer."
Successful next-generation manufacturers, the NGM report concludes, will have to possess an integrated set of attributes. The company will need to respond quickly to customer needs by rapidly producing customized, inexpensive, and high-quality products. This will require factories that can be quickly reconfigured to adapt to changing production and that can be operated by highly-motivated and skilled knowledge workers. Workers organized into teamsboth within and outside a companywill become a vital aspect of manufacturing. As participants in extended enterprises, next-generation companies will only undertake that part of the manufacturing process that they can do better than others, something industry calls "adding value."
Inherent in these requirements are what the NGM project report calls "dilemmas." These arise from the conflict between the individual company's needs and those of the extended enterprise. How can knowledge be shared if knowledge is itself a basis for competition? What security can companies offer their skilled employees when the rapidly changing nature of new manufacturing means that the firms can't guarantee lifetime employment? How can the gaining of new knowledge be rewarded in a reward-for-doing environment?
Resolving these dilemmas is an important part of NSF's vision of the work to be done in the twenty-first century, work in which NSF will play a leading role.