Design Engineering

Closing tech gaps can spur advanced manufacturing innovation


General Additive Manufacturing

The industry must rectify unmet needs for measurement science and "proof-of-concept" demonstrations of emerging technologies.

When it comes to advanced manufacturing, there are some challenges that the industry needs to address in order to grow and spur significant innovation. The industry would be able to save billions of dollars annually it is able to rectify currently unmet needs for measurement science and “proof-of-concept” demonstrations of emerging technologies. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) reached this overall conclusion of four advanced manufacturing areas used to create everything from automobile composites to zero-noise headsets.

NIST tech

NIST engineer Jeremy Marvel adjusts a robotic arm used to study human-robot interactions. Marvel’s work is the type of research needed to fortify and facilitate this emerging field. (Photo courtesy of Fran Webber/NIST)

“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, coordinator of the economic studies prepared by RTI International (link is external), an independent nonprofit research institute.

NIST used data collected through interviews and surveys of some of the key stakeholders including researchers, developers and manufacturers. Each of the four studies identifies 5 to 10 critical technical barriers to the adoption of its specific manufacturing technology. The results also specified the impacts of eliminating each obstacle and prioritizing which needs must be met first.

Establishing industry-wide standards and measurements for the inks and substrates used in roll-to-roll (R2R) manufacturing — the fabrication of electronic devices on a roll of flexible plastic or metal — is projected to reduce production costs by 15 percent.


When it comes to additive manufacturing, one of the industries hottest trends, it is important to develop and adopt verified reference data, robust measurement technologies and testing protocols, and standardize modeling and finishing methods. Correcting some of these challenges could yield some $4 billion in annual benefits and savings for additive manufacturing.

The two largest predicted cost savings were the $57.4 billion and $40.1 billion for the smart manufacturing (where all manufacturing data from design to finished product is electronically exchanged and processed) and advanced robotics and automation sectors, respectively. In order to reap these benefits, the researchers said, there is a need to increase access by small- and medium-sized manufacturers to the same state-of-the-art methods, tools and knowledge as their larger counterparts.

For each of the four advanced manufacturing technologies studied, the estimated annual cost savings and percentage reduction in production costs are:

  • Additive manufacturing: $4.1 billion, 18.3 percent
  • Advanced robotics and automation: $40.1 billion, 5.3 percent
  • Roll-to-roll manufacturing: $400 million, 14.7 percent
  • Smart manufacturing: $57.4 billion, 3.2 percent

The researchers stated that their studies only looked at benefits directly attributable to closing the identified technical gaps in each sector — the impact estimates are conservative.

The studies also support a number of key strategies for overcoming technical barriers and fortifying advanced manufacturing, including: keeping standards and performance measures nonproprietary, using public research institutions to develop those tools, and working through manufacturing research consortia and technology extension services to ensure that all manufacturers — especially small- and medium-sized enterprises — can access them.

“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,” Anderson said. 


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