Report: U.S. Must Boost Smart Manufacturing

A new report is calling on the Federal government to support the development of smart manufacturing workforce training, a “cyber interstate” for real-time data sharing, and investments in critical technologies such as AI.

The report, “Options for a National Plan for Smart Manufacturing,” from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends the Department of Energy (DoE) and other government agencies carry out these three tasks to support a national effort to advance smart manufacturing in the United States.

“Smart manufacturing utilizes a range of advanced sensing and computing technologies to improve factories and supply chains, encompassing prototypes and production line operations while being attentive to cybersecurity and industrial decarbonization,” the report press release reads. “Smart manufacturing can include connecting supply chain networks digitally, optimizing the design of products and the energy and material efficiency of their production, and automating manufacturing equipment.”

“The U.S. is at a critical juncture right now, faced with a significant opportunity to rejuvenate, reinvigorate, and disrupt global manufacturing in favor of more local efforts ― and smart manufacturing is a key element of this revolution,” said Thomas Kurfess, the chair of the committee that wrote the report. “And though the focus is often on technologies, none of this can be done if we don’t ensure that the country has a robust and skilled workforce, and that advances are leveraged for the benefit of the entire manufacturing ecosystem, from small- and medium-sized enterprises to large corporations.”

Enabling the growth of smart manufacturing will require technologies that cover nearly all disciplines of science, engineering, and social sciences, the report says. DoE and other Federal agencies should fund programs and consortia to work at the intersections of these fields.

It identifies six interdisciplinary technologies that are in high demand and recommends associated funding opportunities:

  • Human-machine co-piloting;
  • Sensing;
  • AI and ML;
  • Platforms;
  • Digital twins; and
  • Uncertainty quantification.

The report also says DoE’s smart manufacturing plan should support the creation of a “cyber interstate” to serve as a conduit connecting the wider smart manufacturing community ― including U.S. government agencies, companies, academia, and other stakeholders ― allowing it to securely share data in real-time and at scale. Facilitating this would require the adoption of some new business structures and cybersecurity practices, to allow companies to take advantage of being networked and interconnected while mitigating cyber risks, the organization wrote.

The report also recommends that a national smart manufacturing plan should amplify the efforts of existing workforce development systems and begin additional education-focused initiatives.

“Ensuring that the country’s manufacturing workforce stays relevant, innovative, and adaptable to changing technology and economic landscapes will require providing consistent, scalable, and efficient workforce training and education resources,” the report reads. “An effective initiative could take the form of an independent nongovernment institute or organization, such as a smart manufacturing education and training academy.”