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,
todays 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 nations
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 nations 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 nations 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
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
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 nations 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
Todays 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.
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 Boeings 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 Fords 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
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 customers
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
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
system that informs workers which components to install, according
to customer specifications on
orders received on the companys 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
industrys 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 industrys 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.