In the world of discrete manufacturing today, collaboration is a very hot topic. Driven by the reality of global commerce, the most visible manifestation of this important tool is in design as practiced by many extended enterprises—for example an OEM, its geographically dispersed design centers, and its suppliers. Collaborations such as these can pay big dividends in design cycle time compression.
However, another type of collaboration, created and optimized by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) 25 years ago, is a model in which two or more companies or organizations work together to achieve shared goals. Guided by NCMS, collaborators develop a statement of work (SOW) that defines a common objective in precompetitive research and development with well-defined deliverables plus a work breakdown structure (WBS) that defines individual organization efforts in support of the shared goal. In collaborations structured this way, participants share the cost and risk associated with traditional R&D models while bringing their innovations to market faster, at less cost.
Since its founding in 1986, NCMS has addressed the needs of manufacturing. Its current base of about 400 members includes companies spanning several domains: automotive, aerospace & defense, industrial equipment, consumer products, and manufacturing software. NCMS is without doubt the U.S. leader in forming and managing complex, multipartner, cross-industry collaborative R&D programs. NCMS provides the tools that allow its members to collaborate. These include contracting; accounting; project and intellectual property management; and technology transfer/training resources.
NCMS-led collaborations take many forms. Getting multiple competitors to cooperate, be they OEMs or technology providers, is very difficult due to intellectual property (IP) management concerns. NCMS has succeeded in protecting the IP of participants from Fortune 500 companies to small start-ups.
The least challenging collaboration structure is composed of a single end user (to provide requirements), one or more noncompeting technology providers, perhaps a system integrator, and perhaps a basic researcher such as a university. NCMS has no lab facilities and no researchers. Because it does not compete with its members, NCMS can assume the role of a neutral broker.
The Volumetric Error Compensation (VEC) methodology featured in the June 29, 2011 issue of SAE's Aerospace Engineering magazine was developed and demonstrated in a NCMS collaborative project called Volumetric Accuracy for Large Machine Tools (VALMT), which provides an excellent example of how NCMS collaborations work.
For that project:
• The math foundation for the methodology came from Boeing, as did guidance on the VEC system user interface.
• Automated Precision, Inc. (API) provided Tracker 3 technology and developed both the active target and the VEC software that optimizes Boeing’s math solution into a sophisticated user application.
• Siemens modified its 840D CNC controller to accept compensation equations from API’s VEC software and perform real-time tool-path compensation.
• MAG IAS, LLC provided access to large development machine tools for Alpha testing.
• Warner Robins AFB and the Naval Foundry and Propeller Center provided access to large production machines for Beta testing.
• The U.S. Department of Defense provided seed funding through a cooperative agreement with NCMS called Commercial Technologies for Maintenance Activities.
Individual contracts between NCMS and each participant created what was essentially a joint venture focused on the common objective of the creation of the VEC system. The structure was that of a group of peers resolving issues through consensus.
Collaborations such as this one achieve remarkable results. Participants decide among themselves how to equitably divide necessary effort. Cost and risk is shared and reduced for individual participants while all share the rewards. From this example project, VEC technology is being commercialized and is available both independently and cooperatively from API and MAG. What is truly unique about NCMS collaborations is that a small company such as API functions in this environment as a peer to giants such as Boeing and Siemens.
NCMS is the leader in working with manufacturers and technology providers to bring innovations out of the exploratory phase and into commercial implementation. Through the development of collaborative partnerships to address common issues, NCMS accomplishes this goal more quickly, at lower cost, and with fewer risks than going it alone. NCMS leverages the resources and infrastructure of its almost 400 members to arrive at solutions that improve the competitive standing of our nation’s manufacturing base.
Tony Haynes, Director of Advanced Manufacturing Programs at The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, wrote this article for SAE Magazines.