Research, Innovation and Technology

Manufacturing doesn’t just use cutting-edge technology—we create it. The manufacturing sector accounts for three-quarters of all private-sector research and development in the nation, giving our industry a critical competitive edge and providing our highly-skilled employees with vital support.

Business Operations

Beyond the Buzzwords: Manufacturers Tackle Digital Threads

A manufacturing business is filled with internal processes, workflows and standards, and the average factory generates thousands of data points per day. But how does a manufacturer capture that data? How do they preserve institutional knowledge? What if they could automate workflow, create seamless project handoffs and track development around every stage of a project’s life?

The NAM’s Leading Edge program, in partnership with Siemens, asked a panel of experts these questions in “Beyond the Buzzwords: The Digital Thread Journey,” the first in a four-part webinar series focused on understanding the “digital thread” in the workplace. In the first installment of the series, Siemens Vice President of Industry Strategy Dale Tutt and Anduril Industries Chief of Engineering Tom McCarthy introduced us to the idea of the digital thread—what it is, why it matters and how manufacturers can harness its power to succeed.

What it is: The digital thread is a concept rather than a specific technology. According to Tutt, it is about capturing and connecting every piece of a project’s life cycle digitally, and using that connectivity to provide a seamless transition of information from one functional area to another.

  • “We often refer to a digital thread as singular, like it’s a thing,” said McCarthy. “But really, in my mind, it’s a lot of threads. … it ends up being more like a rope than a thread.”

Why it matters: A strong digital thread can automate a manufacturer’s workflow, capture data more effectively, preserve institutional knowledge, trace development processes and even capture the context that informs how decisions are made.

  • Radically new technology means that organizations can accomplish these tasks more successfully than ever before—and that those who ignore that opportunity could be left behind.
  • “The biggest risk is to do nothing and assume this fad will go away,” said McCarthy.

The challenges: One of the biggest challenges in building a strong digital thread in your own workspace is integration and data management.

  • Manufacturing systems need to manage lots of data coming to it in different formats. But according to Tutt, that data needs to be organized in a comprehensible way. “It’s about producing the right data at the right time in the right … format,” said Tutt.
  • According to McCarthy, a digital thread isn’t just a database. It is the key that deciphers that data and makes it accessible and intelligible for the user. “We need a Rosetta Stone,” said McCarthy, “to be able to understand how that data maps onto other tools.”

Implementation and technology: New technology and strategic concepts have enhanced our capacity to build strong digital threads—and with that new ability has come a new and urgent need to make use of the concept to strengthen the manufacturing industry.

  • To get started on your own digital thread journey, Tutt and McCarthy agreed that manufacturers should dig into the existing workflows in their organization and introduce one tool at a time, rather than trying to engineer a master solution all at once.
  • “You can work the digital infrastructure you need for that workflow in pieces, so you can build them up over time,” said McCarthy. “You got to keep your eye on the end game, but if you try to build it all at once, good luck.” 

Learn more: To learn more about digital threads, check out the full webinar here. 

Coming up: In the next three webinars in this series, Beyond the Buzzwords explores a few of those tools and concepts that drive the digital thread in the modern day: artificial intelligence, cloud advancements and radical flexibility.

Policy and Legal

NAM to Senate: Administration March-in Proposal Undermines IP, Innovation

The Biden administration’s push to invoke “march-in” rights is unlawful and would have “disastrous consequences” for the United States if enacted, the NAM told the Senate Tuesday.

What’s going on: Ahead of a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on intellectual property in the biopharmaceutical sector, the NAM warned of the potentially dire consequences of the proposed march-in framework issued by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

  • The NIST proposal would allow the federal government to “march in” and seize manufacturers’ patent rights if an innovation was developed in any part with federal dollars.
  • In the biopharmaceutical sector and other innovative industries, federal funding plays an important role in supporting early-stage research—but further R&D, product development and commercialization require hundreds of millions to billions of dollars in additional capital from investors and established companies.
  • Robust IP protections ensure that manufacturers can bring innovative products to consumers.

Why it’s a problem: March-in would violate manufacturers’ IP rights and prevent investment into lifesaving and life-changing technologies, according to NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Charles Crain.

  • “Allowing march-in based on the price of a product or technology, as the NIST guidance proposes … would undermine manufacturers’ IP rights and have sweeping ramifications for innovation in the United States and America’s world-leading innovation economy,” Crain told the committee.
  • Committee member Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) agreed during the hearing that the proposal is fundamentally flawed. “Any company [that] invents [anything] or any researcher who invents anything is now open to the federal government saying, ‘I want that, and I don’t agree with the price you’re setting for it,’” he said.

What should happen: Congress must stop NIST’s overreach, Crain said.

  • “Policies that threaten IP protections, like NIST’s proposed march-in guidance, will cede one of our greatest advantages to our competitors. Manufacturers [look forward] to work[ing] with the committee to ensure the U.S. maintains the strongest IP protections in the world in order to spur the discovery and commercialization of inventions that improve health and quality of life for all people.”
Press Releases

NAM Publishes First-of-Its-Kind Report on Vast Potential of Artificial Intelligence for Manufacturers

Washington, D.C. – The National Association of Manufacturers released a first-of-its-kind report, “Working Smarter: How Manufacturers Are Using Artificial Intelligence,” detailing use cases for artificial intelligence in manufacturing and case studies of how manufacturers are already implementing AI technologies to strengthen America’s workforce, advance innovation and improve the quality of life for everyone.

The report provides an overview of insights from leading manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson, Schneider Electric and Hitachi, on how AI can improve efficiency, product development, safety, predictive maintenance and supply chain logistics. The report also outlines a series of recommendations on how policymakers can help support the safe, responsible development of AI while promoting innovation and growth.

“So much of the media and policymaking conversation is focused on generative AI, but AI is far more than that for modern manufacturers,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “It’s infused increasingly throughout the shop floor, research and development and beyond. Manufacturers are leading the way in the use and development of new AI technologies. From developing more effective clinical trials and improving workplace safety to strengthening supply chain resiliency and supporting workforce training for employees, AI is unlocking new opportunities to strengthen our modern manufacturing workforce and improve the lives of all Americans. Congress and the Biden administration can support manufacturers’ adoption of AI by enacting strong data privacy protections, investing in workforce training and providing regulatory certainty.”

“All possible futures for modern manufacturing in the U.S. involve AI,” said Johnson & Johnson Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Operations & Risk Officer and NAM Board Chair Kathy Wengel. “Given the importance of this generational technology, policymakers must develop sensible, carefully thought-out frameworks for various AI applications—and they should lean on manufacturers’ years of experience to engineer those frameworks. We need a policy environment that supports innovation and growth in manufacturing AI, because it will bolster U.S. competitiveness and leadership in this critical emerging field.”

Policy recommendations include the following:

  • Invest in R&D and career technical education institutions that train the modern manufacturing workforce.
  • Enact federal privacy legislation that advances individuals’ privacy and provides legal clarity that supports continued innovation and competitiveness.
  • Employ a risk-based approach that tailors any new AI regulations—only if new regulations are necessary—to specific use cases and minimizes compliance burdens.
  • Ensure that regulatory frameworks are aligned globally to maintain U.S. global leadership. The more disparate the approach to AI around the world, the more time, energy and investment companies will need to spend navigating misalignments.

Learn more here.

-NAM-

The National Association of Manufacturers is the largest manufacturing association in the United States, representing small and large manufacturers in every industrial sector and in all 50 states. Manufacturing employs nearly 13 million men and women, contributes $2.89 trillion to the U.S. economy annually and accounts for 53% of private-sector research and development. The NAM is the powerful voice of the manufacturing community and the leading advocate for a policy agenda that helps manufacturers compete in the global economy and create jobs across the United States. For more information about the NAM or to follow us on Twitter and Facebook, please visit www.nam.org.

Policy and Legal

NAM First-of-Its-Kind AI Report Includes Policy Recommendations

Artificial intelligence is improving efficiency, workplace safety, product development, machine maintenance and supply chain logistics at manufacturing facilities everywhere, according to a new, first-of-its-kind report from the NAM.

What’s going on: Working Smarter: How Manufacturers Are Using Artificial Intelligence,” released today, details use cases for AI in the sector, discussing how manufacturers nationwide are using it to improve lives everywhere.

  • The report features deep dives on AI-powered technologies at manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson, Schneider Electric and Hitachi.

Trailblazers need good policy, too: “From developing more effective clinical trials and improving workplace safety to strengthening supply chain resiliency and supporting workforce training for employees, AI is unlocking new opportunities to strengthen our modern manufacturing workforce and improve the lives of all Americans,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons. “Congress and the Biden administration can support manufacturers’ adoption of AI by enacting strong data privacy protections, investing in workforce training and providing regulatory certainty.”

  • Legislators should “lean on” manufacturers’ deep experience when drafting AI-related legislation, added Johnson & Johnson Executive Vice President and Chief Technical Operations & Risk Officer and NAM Board Chair Kathy Wengel.
  • “All possible futures for modern manufacturing in the U.S. involve AI,” she said. “Policymakers must develop sensible, carefully thought-out frameworks for various AI applications. … We need a policy environment that supports innovation and growth in manufacturing AI, because it will bolster U.S. competitiveness and leadership in this critical emerging field.”

The recommendations: The report contains immediately implementable policy recommendations for lawmakers:

  • Invest in research and development and career technical education institutions to train the modern manufacturing workforce.
  • Pass federal privacy legislation to advance individuals’ privacy protections and give legal clarity that will support continued innovation by manufacturers.
  • Use a risk-based approach to new AI regulations that tailors any future laws to specific use cases and minimizes the burden of compliance.
  • Ensure that AI regulation is aligned globally.
Policy and Legal

NAM Stands Up for Biopharmaceutical Innovation Before Senate Hearing

In advance of a Senate hearing on health care costs, the NAM is ensuring that senators understand the importance of biopharmaceutical innovation to patients and the U.S. economy—and the damaging impact of policies that hinder drug development.

What’s happening: The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing today on whether harmful policies like price controls, compulsory licensing and weaker intellectual property protections for new medicines could reduce servicemembers’ health care costs.

NAM pushes back: The NAM is highlighting the extraordinary investment—in both time and capital—that it takes to bring a lifesaving treatment to market. According to the NAM:

  • The average cost of developing a new drug was $2.3 billion as of 2022;
  • Across the industry, biopharmaceutical manufacturers spent $139 billion on R&D in just 2022 alone;
  • It can take 10 to 15 years for a breakthrough scientific discovery to move through early-stage research, clinical trials, Food and Drug Administration approval and manufacturing; and
  • Only 12% of investigational drugs that enter a Phase I clinical trial ultimately receive FDA approval—to say nothing of the hundreds of discoveries that never make it into clinical trials.

Lifesaving impact: In 2023, the FDA approved a record-breaking 71 new medicines that will improve the lives of patients.

  • The biopharmaceutical industry behind these breakthroughs is also stimulating the U.S. economy: Biopharmaceutical manufacturers accounted for $355 billion in value-added output to the U.S. economy in 2021 and directly employed 291,000 workers in the U.S.

Innovation under threat: In recent years, biopharmaceutical manufacturers have been subject to harmful policies that will limit innovation and slow efforts to develop lifesaving medicines.

  • The Medicare Drug Price Negotiation Program subjects life-changing biopharmaceutical innovations to government price controls, while the Biden administration’s “march-in” proposal undermines innovators’ IP rights. These policies make it riskier and more costly for manufacturers to invest in groundbreaking research.
  • What’s more, the prices Americans pay for medicines are influenced heavily by middlemen, such as pharmacy benefit managers rather than biopharma companies. In 2020, more than half of every dollar spent on brand medicines went to PBMs and others in the health care system—not the medicine’s manufacturer.

The final word: “The costs of manufacturing a medicine include potentially decades of research and billions of dollars of investment,” said NAM Vice President of Domestic Policy Charles Crain. “Congress must avoid adopting policies that will stymie this lifesaving innovation.”

Input Stories

NAM Stands Up for Biopharmaceutical Innovation Before Senate Hearing


In advance of a Senate hearing on health care costs, the NAM is ensuring that senators understand the importance of biopharmaceutical innovation to patients and the U.S. economy—and the damaging impact of policies that hinder drug development.

What’s happening: The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a subcommittee hearing today on whether harmful policies like price controls, compulsory licensing and weaker intellectual property protections for new medicines could reduce servicemembers’ health care costs.

NAM pushes back: The NAM is highlighting the extraordinary investment—in both time and capital—that it takes to bring a lifesaving treatment to market. According to the NAM:

  • The average cost of developing a new drug was $2.3 billion as of 2022;
  • Across the industry, biopharmaceutical manufacturers spent $139 billion on R&D in just 2022 alone;
  • It can take 10 to 15 years for a breakthrough scientific discovery to move through early-stage research, clinical trials, Food and Drug Administration approval and manufacturing; and
  • Only 12% of investigational drugs that enter a Phase I clinical trial ultimately receive FDA approval—to say nothing of the hundreds of discoveries that never make it into clinical trials.

Lifesaving impact: In 2023, the FDA approved a record-breaking 71 new medicines that will improve the lives of patients.

  • The biopharmaceutical industry behind these breakthroughs is also stimulating the U.S. economy: Biopharmaceutical manufacturers accounted for $355 billion in value-added output to the U.S. economy in 2021 and directly employed 291,000 workers in the U.S.

Innovation under threat: In recent years, biopharmaceutical manufacturers have been subject to harmful policies that will limit innovation and slow efforts to develop lifesaving medicines.

Read the full story here.

Business Operations

IRI Announces 2024’s Top Innovator Finalists

The Innovation Research Interchange has announced the finalists for this year’s IRI Innovation Excellence Awards.

What’s going on: The honors given by the IRI—the NAM’s innovation arm—pay tribute to organizations and individuals whose outstanding vision and tireless pursuit of excellence are having a positive impact on lives today and shaping the industries of tomorrow. Honorees come from companies of all sizes and industries.

The categories: Awards are given in five categories, three to companies and two to individuals. They are as follows:

  • IRI Innovation Leadership Award (individual)
  • IRI Promising Young Innovation Professional Award (individual)
  • IRI Excellence Award for Innovation in Sustainability (company)
  • IRI Excellence Award for Outstanding Innovative Culture (company)
  • IRI Excellence Award for Digital and Technological Innovation (company)

Who participates: Each year, nominees comprise innovators who are leveraging technology to enhance operational performance at their companies or sustainability and fostering a collaborative workplace culture that celebrates innovation.

  • High-performing leaders who drive sustainability initiatives are also recognized, and consultants and university partners working on exciting innovation projects with a company are eligible for nomination, too.

Why they’re important: In addition to building team unity and encouraging executive leadership to invest further in innovation, the awards give companies the chance to revisit the successes, challenges and lessons learned throughout their innovative projects.

  • Selection as a finalist shows customers, prospects and partners that a company or individual is at the forefront of innovation.

Attend the celebration: Winners will be announced May 16 during the Innovation Celebration and Reception at the Innovators Summit in Boston. Celebration admission is included with summit registration.

About the IRI: The IRI offers insights, case studies, research, benchmarks and strategic connections—all built around a set of innovation growth drivers as determined by members annually. Learn more about the IRI here.

Business Operations

How Will AI-Run Factories Be Different?

A common theme in science fiction is the fully automated, robotized factory that manufactures nothing but robots. We’re not there yet, but the fully automated manufacturing plant has already begun making everyday products, including computer parts, electric shavers and CNC machines.

The promise of AI: Now generative AI is promising to take manufacturing automation manufacturing to a new level.

  • At the 2023 Hannover Messe trade fair in Hanover, Germany, Siemens and Microsoft showcased an offering now in use in factories worldwide: a system that uses ChatGPT to generate code for industrial computers known as programmable logic controllers. (For a deeper dive into what this means for manufacturing, read the full version of this article by Tim Hornyak in the Innovation Research Interchange’s Research-Technology Management magazine.)

Why it’s important: The innovation allows users to ask ChatGPT to generate code for specific tasks (i.e., a program to operate the stamping of a part).

  • In addition to saving time and reducing the likelihood of errors, it is capable of understanding commands given in natural language, a characteristic that vastly increases the number of potential users.

Efficient designs: Creating more efficient designs is another early use case for generative AI.

  • General Motors has used the technology to evaluate better designs for some of the roughly 30,000 parts that go into the average car. For example, a standard seat bracket—an important safety component that binds seatbelt fasteners to seats as well as seats to the floor of the car—consists of eight separate pieces welded together.
  • Generative-design software used by GM analyzed the requirements and suggested more than 150 alternative designs, far more than the two or three options a designer can typically offer. GM engineers chose one: a single piece of stainless steel that is 40% lighter and 20% stronger than the conventional part.

Pharma applications: Generative AI looks promising for the pharmaceutical industry, too, given its potential for cutting costs and drug time to market.

  • Merck has used generative AI to create synthetic images of complex but rare defects, a group for which training data are limited. The drugmaker’s quality-control sensors use the synthetic images to watch for novel defects.

Other potential use cases: The possible uses for generative AI in other areas is vast and includes the following:

  • Reducing time and cost involved in creating physical prototypes
  • Automating search and summary of documents related to manufacturing equipment, which would speed repairs and maintenance
  • Accelerating supply chain operations by forecasting demand patterns, minimizing production downtime and suggesting better transport routes
  • Customizing products or solutions to better suit customer needs
  • Forecasting raw materials needs, optimizing production schedules and identifying production inefficiencies

However … Generative AI in manufacturing is not without its challenges. The energy cost to power a single server rack in the U.S. is $30,000 a year.

  • Just one training run for an AI engine consumes the power equivalent of 120 U.S. households per year.
  • With the reliance on large datasets, manufacturers are concerned about data privacy and security, necessitating robust data-protection measures.
  • The integration of AI in manufacturing may require a change in workers’ skillsets and corporate culture.
  • As AI plays a more significant role in decision-making, ethical questions about bias and accountability are emerging.
  • Manufacturers have to ensure that AI systems operate fairly and transparently.

Find out more: AI in manufacturing is just one of the timely topics covered in depth in Research-Technology Management, the journal of the IRI, the NAM’s innovation division. Learn more.

Workforce

The MI Honors 2024 Women MAKE Award Winners

The Manufacturing Institute—the NAM’s 501(c)(3) workforce development and education affiliate—had ample reason to celebrate last night.

What went on: The MI held the 2024 Women MAKE Awards gala, a night that recognizes outstanding women in manufacturing. Each year, the awards pay special tribute to 100 peer-nominated women leaders (“Honorees”) and 30 rising female stars (“Emerging Leaders,” women under the age of 30) in the industry.

  • The event, held this year at The Anthem—a waterfront concert venue in Washington, D.C.—was sponsored by Caterpillar, Toyota, BASF, Trane Technologies, International Paper, Johnson & Johnson, Novelis and others.
  • It featured a vocal performance by singer Loren Allred, platinum-selling singer-songwriter of “Never Enough” from “The Greatest Showman” musical, who gained widespread fame after appearing on “Britain’s Got Talent” in 2022.

What was said: Caterpillar Group President of Resource Industries, NAM Executive Committee Member and Women MAKE Awards Chair Denise Johnson told the night’s award winners that she’s been “the only woman in a room, or the only woman on a project” many times in her career.

  • But “[l]ooking around this theater and seeing the faces of the Honorees and Emerging Leaders tells me that times are changing.”
  • She then addressed the honorees directly, saying, “Your success, your work ethic and your stories will inspire the next generation of manufacturing leaders. … You are moving us along toward a future when women are not underrepresented in our industry.”

From Honoree to Vice Chair: Toyota Motor North America Senior Vice President, Electric Vehicle Supply Susan Elkington—a 2014 Honoree of the awards, formerly called the STEP Ahead Awards—was this year’s awards vice chair. She attested to the power of the awards to help women advance in their careers.

  • “[T]he Women MAKE network … helped me realize the many qualities and experiences uniting all the women who have been inducted into this amazing network.”
  • She noted the cruciality of the MI’s Women MAKE initiative, which “provides a platform for role models and mentors to encourage women to enter the field and succeed in it.”

No limits: NAM President and CEO and MI Chairman of the Board Jay Timmons also discussed the importance of role models, a label aptly applied to all the award nominees.

  • Timmons, a parent of three, told the audience that he and his children recently learned the story of 30-year-old Cole Brauer, who last month made history as the first American woman to sail solo nonstop around the world.
  • Brauer’s story “sends a message to those—frankly, women or men—who might have been led to believe there were limits to what they could achieve or that their careers might be confined within guardrails,” he said. “Your examples are inspiring people in a similar way. You are powerhouses—your dynamism, your drive, your enthusiasm—all these qualities supercharge modern manufacturing, making our industry an even more powerful force for good.” 

“Amazing things”: MI President and Executive Director Carolyn Lee called the nominated women “powerhouses who have accomplished amazing things.”

  • “You deserve this recognition for your excellence and for everything you do to uplift others,” Lee told the award nominees. “But we’re not just celebrating. Being here to recognize these winners is shining a light and fueling the work to close the gender and talent gap in manufacturing.”
  • Women account for less than one-third of the American manufacturing workforce, she went on, but endeavors such as the MI’s Women MAKE America initiative—the nation’s premier program dedicated to closing the gender gap in the sector—“and companies like yours are committed to closing that gap.”

Learn more: For a full list of this year’s award winners, click here.

Input Stories

How Will AI-Run Factories Be Different?


A common theme in science fiction is the fully automated, robotized factory that manufactures nothing but robots. We’re not there yet, but the fully automated manufacturing plant has already begun making everyday products, including computer parts, electric shavers and CNC machines.

The promise of AI: Now generative AI is promising to take manufacturing automation manufacturing to a new level.

  • At the 2023 Hannover Messe trade fair in Hanover, Germany, Siemens and Microsoft showcased an offering now in use in factories worldwide: a system that uses ChatGPT to generate code for industrial computers known as programmable logic controllers. (For a deeper dive into what this means for manufacturing, read the full version of this article by Tim Hornyak in the Innovation Research Interchange’s Research-Technology Management magazine.)

Why it’s important: The innovation allows users to ask ChatGPT to generate code for specific tasks (i.e., a program to operate the stamping of a part).

  • In addition to saving time and reducing the likelihood of errors, it is capable of understanding commands given in natural language, a characteristic that vastly increases the number of potential users.

Efficient designs: Creating more efficient designs is another early use case for generative AI.

  • General Motors has used the technology to evaluate better designs for some of the roughly 30,000 parts that go into the average car. For example, a standard seat bracket—an important safety component that binds seatbelt fasteners to seats as well as seats to the floor of the car—consists of eight separate pieces welded together.
  • Generative-design software used by GM analyzed the requirements and suggested more than 150 alternative designs, far more than the two or three options a designer can typically offer. GM engineers chose one: a single piece of stainless steel that is 40% lighter and 20% stronger than the conventional part.

Read the full story here.

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