NIST tries smart engineering

Swee Leong, a manufacturing engineer with the National Institute of Standards and
Technology, said the federal government needs to protect itself and industry from faulty
manufacturing data-the source of expensive production errors.


Whenever a job order goes to the shop floor, it is accompanied by a manufacturing data
package and assembled by a process engineer. It contains a numerical control program and
lists of tools, fixtures, machines and operations.


Leong and his colleagues in NIST's Manufacturing Engineering Lab want to come up with a
standard way for manufacturers to validate this manufacturing data, which is often
assembled from incompatible programs.


Their idea is to use computer simulation to review this data from an engineering
standpoint, to catch errors before they show up on the shop floor.


They also want to develop a tool kit with which manufacturing software vendors can
integrate their commercial applications. Manufacturing engineers should be able to enter
data once, and "from then on apply the data to the downstream manufacturing
applications," Leong said.


That is not the case today. Popular manufacturing applications used in engineering,
product modeling, process planning, simulation and product data management are stovepipe
applications that don't share data.


To get around this, some manufacturers buy expensive integration services, which Leong
developed before he left IBM Corp. and joined the NIST engineering staff.


NIST acts as the catalyst to help manufacturing software vendors reach agreement on how
the interface specification should be written. Leong manages the Computer-Aided
Manufacturing Engineering (CAME) Consortium of defense contractors, strategic weapons
centers, software vendors and others interested in a manufacturing engineering tool kit.


But so far, the tool kit is only a prototype. "If standards were easy, we would
get them all to sign off right away and provide the products. But it's not happening that
quickly," Leong said.


Engineering managers from the Naval Surface Warfare centers, the Army's Rock Island
Arsenal, Ill., and Watervliet Arsenal, N.Y., the Joint Strike Fighter Program and the
Defense Systems Management College support NIST's CAME efforts.


A standard tool kit and data validation methodology would help all of them manage their
manufacturing operations more efficiently, Leong said.


He would not predict when the manufacturing engineering interface specification might
become an International Standards Organization standard. Leong's group started the
technical work two years ago.


The NIST technical team developed the interface specification using Indigo and Onyx
workstations from Silicon Graphics Inc. and other Unix workstations from Sun Microsystems
Inc.


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