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Chapter 6: Manufacturing Technologies

Recent Progress in Cleaning Up
It is difficult today to imagine the levels of air pollution that were commonly accepted in the 1940s and 1950s as the inevitable price of industrial progress. After a particularly acute episode of air pollution in London in 1952 killed some 4,000 people, scientists went to work to understand the sources of air pollution. Some of the sources, such as coal-fired boilers, were readily identified. But “smog” was more difficult. Atmospheric scientists eventually determined that sunlight shining on exhaust from tailpipes and smokestacks causes smog. Knowledge of the cause led environmental engineers to solutions such as catalytic converters for automobiles and scrubbers for industrial smokestacks. For example, today's cars get twice the average gas mileage of cars built in 1970, and they burn their gasoline 90 percent more cleanly. Since 1970, air pollution has declined by 31 percent, while U.S. population increased by 31 percent, GDP increased by 114 percent, and vehicle miles traveled increased by 127 percent.

Just as science and technology led the way in improving air quality, they have also given us new understanding, and new tools, in the effort to clean up our water. The United States has 3.5 million miles of rivers, 41 million acres of lakes, 277 million acres of wetlands, and 34,400 square miles of estuaries. During the past 25 years, we have seen substantial improvements in water quality for many types of pollutants in the nation's aquatic cosystems, and anticipated advances in technology will help us address remaining challenges. Among the issues needing attention are the declines in populations of aquatic species that are not only environmentally essential but also economically vital, and “non-point” sources of pollution — that is, pollution that arises from wide areas — such as nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from agricultural fields or oil and sediment from urban development sites.
Standards that ensure that the nation's public water supplies remain safe for human consumption have helped prevent 200,000 to 470,000 cases of gastrointestinal illnesses each year. The Environmental Protection Agency is also working with the states and other stakeholders to develop long-term protection programs, an effort that has led to implementation of special protection programs in about 4,000 communities across the country.
Surveys of the nation's largest rivers show that the number of rivers, lakes, and estuaries safe enough for fishing and swimming has increased by 20 percent. Clean water is essential not only for health reasons, but also for direct economic benefit from fishing, tourism, and other water-based commercial activities.

Pollution Prevention Pays

A program at 3M to encourage innovation among employees has not only helped the company improve speed and efficiency, but has also helped create a cleaner environment and generate new revenues. The Pollution Prevention Pays (3P) program at 3M aims to prevent waste at its source — in products and manufacturing processes — rather than treating or disposing of it after it has been created. Although the idea itself was not new when 3P began in 1975, no one had ever tried to apply pollution prevention on a company-wide basis and document the results. Since 1975, 3P has kept 771,000 tons of pollutants out of the environment and saved $810 million.

Before the 3P program, a resin spray booth in one plant had annually produced about 500,000 pounds
of over-spray, requiring special incineration disposal. The company installed new equipment to eliminate excessive over-spray. It also implemented a new design that reduced the amount of resin used. In this case, an equipment investment of $45,000 saved more than $125,000 a year.

Another 3M plant developed a new product from the waste stream of an existing product at the plant. The new product is used to contain and absorb hazardous waste spills, providing revenue, cutting landfill costs, and reducing waste. Other 3P projects worldwide have ranged from improved control of coating weight and wastewater recycling, to a variety of combustion control and heat-recovery processes.

The Federal investment in environmental research is helping to encourage American corporations to develop manufacturing processes to minimize pollution.

Preventing Future Harm
The greater scientific understanding of the environment has enabled us to shift from the initial environmental focus of cleaning up major “point sources” of pollution to a new generation of environmental tools that emphasizes pollution prevention. Sustainability requires that future economic growth be achieved without unacceptable levels of pollution or unsustainable rates of resource use. And science is providing the analytic tools for policymakers and decisionmakers to understand — in advance — the environmental consequences of alternative management strategies. The technologies that help us observe, compute, and communicate will increasingly allow us to anticipate environmental issues in a much more timely fashion. For example, as we further refine computer modeling, we will be better able to simulate interactions among biological, chemical, and physical forces and phenomena to predict a range of outcomes, providing better documentation for policy decisions.

Continuing a comprehensive program of environmental research and development will improve our ability to prevent problems in the future. Federal funding for environmental science provides the technical basis for sound environmental policies that enable us to continue to create jobs and expand our economy without sacrificing human health or healthy ecosystems on which human prosperity ultimately depends.

Manufacturing undergirds our nation's economy. Manufacturing firms consistently generate about 20 percent of GDP and employ about 16 percent of the total workforce, or about 21 million people. Continual innovations in manufacturing technologies sustain the vital economic role of manufacturing industries in the U.S. economy.

Three decades ago, U.S. manufacturing was concentrated in large factories using large amounts of raw materials to produce machinery, automotive vehicles, and other large products. Labor was skilled but relatively expensive to the manufacturer, who often had to tread a fine line between cost and quality concerns.
Today's manufacturing model is a much smaller factory producing smaller consumer goods or precision parts for later assembly in larger products. Miniaturization, new materials, and improved processes have helped manufacturers make great strides in quality, efficiency, and productivity. This rapid rate of progress is fueled by research in manufacturing systems, as well as innovations in a range of other disciplines — including materials science, robotics, chemistry, information technologies, management, and statistics.

Virtual Manufacturing

Our ability to harness the power and promise of leading-edge advances in technology will determine in large measure our national prosperity, security, and global influence, and with them the standard of living and quality of life of our people.

Designing, testing, and developing large manufactured products requires many human and material resources. Information technologies help integrate computer design tools with models and simulations of manufacturing processes for more efficient design, analysis, and testing of products. These ‘virtual' tools greatly reduce the investment required for product prototyping, testing, and validation. The story of the development and production of the Boeing 777 is a vivid illustration of the adoption of virtual manufacturing and the efficiencies that technology can create.

The latest relative in Boeing's family of jetliners, the 777 is the first airplane to be completely designed and pre-assembled ‘virtually' — that is, by computer. Performance and strength of the plane were analyzed and tested through complex computer models. Of its three million parts, more than 100,000 are unique; they were precision-engineered from computer models. The parts were manufactured separately at sites spread around the world, then shipped to a central plant, where they were assembled. They fit together perfectly on the first attempt! The cost savings to Boeing were tremendous, and the company won multiple manufacturing and innovation awards.


Customizing Mass Production

Next generation vehicles such as this one will incorporate advances in manufacturing and information technologies.

U.S. manufacturing firms are adopting techniques that are potentially as revolutionary as Henry Ford's development of the Model T automobile. The mass-produced auto epitomized the industrial revolution; the assembly line standardized quality, reduced costs, and passed on these benefits to the consumer. But the consumer also had to accept fewer choices — most famously, every Model T was painted black.

Today, the advent of information technology is changing the nature of manufacturing and raising consumer expectations. In a world where we have grown accustomed to instant Internet access to specific information on almost any topic, we increasingly expect products to be tailored to our individual needs. Already, customers are using the World Wide Web to configure their dream car or their next computer. With a click, their order goes directly to the manufacturing plant.

Even more sweeping are IT-enabled changes in manufacturing practices and business relationships. Supply chains span the globe, linked in information-sharing networks that rapidly exchange designs, part orders, demand forecasts, sales reports, and much, much more. Without leaving their home offices, equipment manufacturers can go on line to troubleshoot — and even correct — problems in a customer's plant hundreds of miles away, saving time and money. A small manufacturer with occasional need for a costly design or research tool can contract, via the Internet, with a specialized service provider, bringing the company the benefit of unique expertise without having to hire new staff. And, in the steel industry, companies are trimming storage costs by advertising and selling surplus production via their Web sites.

Some companies already are making customized products on production lines that are only a link or two away from the customer. Dell Computer Corporation, for example, uses a computerized ystem that informs workers which components to install, according to customer specifications on orders received on the company's Web site. The system automatically reorders components according to demand, a practice that reduces surplus inventory and prevents volatile components from losing value (up to 1 percent per week). This system works well for building computers, whose parts can be configured in many different ways according to customers' needs, but many other industries also use the technology. In the apparel industry, some companies are scaling production runs to orders as small as one item. Their customers supply measurements over the Internet, and the firms send back attire that truly is made to fit.

Economists credit applications of information technology for driving annual productivity increases in manufacturing that have been averaging about 4 percent since 1992, double the rate of increase for other non-farm sectors of the economy. Manufacturers are still finding new, productive uses of information technology. In the decades to come, information technology will bring the Industrial Revolution full circle, and mass-produced customized products will become the norm.


Small Component, Big Impact

The health of the U.S. printed wiring board industry has improved dramatically in the past several years, thanks to a collaborative research venture co-funded by the Advanced Technology Program (ATP) of the Department of Commerce.

Printed wiring boards are a powerful but unseen component of our modern Information Age — in fact, most people have never seen one. Nonetheless, they are crucial in the operation of dozens of products we use every day, from copy machines, pagers, and computers to radar, industrial sensors, and biomedical implants. These wiring boards connect smaller electronic devices inside the products. Between the early 1980s and the early 1990s, the $7 billion industry, which represents some 200,000 American jobs, was steadily losing world market share. Then the ATP partnered with six top U.S. suppliers and users of printed wiring boards and Sandia National Laboratories of the U.S. Department of Energy to look for ways to improve the industry's manufacturing efficiency.

Between mid-1991 and mid-1996, the venture hastened progress and substantially reduced the costs of 32 research tasks and enabled the industry to pursue 30 other tasks that would not have been possible without ATP funding. The initial gains in productivity were remarkable: one company reduced the number of plies, or layers of material, in its wiring boards, saving more than $3 million annually; another company used a new model for predicting shrinkage of its wiring boards' layers, reducing its accumulation of scrap and saving more than $1.4 million per year; and a third firm found ways to improve its coating and soldering techniques, reducing solder joint defects by 50 percent. The venture succeeded not only through technical accomplishments but also through spin-off projects that may further boost the industry's fortunes — especially in the dynamic market for portable electronics. One group of engineers involved in the project started a new company that now tests sample boards for major corporate clients around the world.

The industry saved a total of $35.5 million in research costs, and millions more via increased productivity. One expert credits the ATP program with saving the entire U.S. industry. The U.S. share of the market for printed wiring boards has increased from a low of 26 percent in the early 1990s to 31 percent in 1996, and orders were up nearly 20 percent as of mid-1997. Ultimately, the biggest beneficiaries of the reduced costs and improved quality in these products are American consumers.

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