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NCMS: can it work for you?

NCMS: can it work for you?

Jim Koontz was obviously pleased. An effervescence had taken over his usually reserved demeanor. He had just returned from the May annual meeting of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) in Dallas. I was in Keene, NH, to pick up the latest on the Kingsbury Machine Tool Corp that he runs as CEO. Kingsbury, as a metalworking factory, is approaching full CIM status. That's something many manufacturers talk about, but not too many achieve. His enthusiasm for his company is obvious. But that day was no different than any other he has spent for the past five years or more. He couldn't pass up the opportunity to plug the NCMS.

It was no surprise. James Koontz is chairman of the center. He has been since its inception in 1986. If you had to point to one person responsible for turning the NCMS dream into a reality, it would have to be Jim Koontz. In fact, to a large extent, it was his dream. I was an enthusiastic listener for I followed and supported its evolvement from organizational meetings--even attending some--to establishment of its headquarters in Ann Arbor, MI. About 125 firms are now members; dozens more have applied. Some won't be admitted. The rules state only companies controlled by US or Canadian interests can join.

"It's now working as I always hoped that it would," he explained, adding that companies were coming together under the umbrella of the NCMS and launching joint research programs. Several are in the works; many more are pending. One includes a nearly $30 million research project on printed-wiring-board technology and brings together the efforts of AT&T, Digital Equipment Corp, Texas Instruments, Hamilton Standard, and Sandia Labs. They'll each share in the benefits of the basic research and then head off individually to develop a proprietary niche. What's even more encouraging is that another 900 suppliers with which those companies work will benefit ultimately from the results of the research.

Such cooperative efforts don't come easily to the US corporate mindset. As NCMS President Ed Miller points out, "From the time a kid gets out of kindergarten, he's taught to be an individual. . . not cooperate. Likewise most American companies have been reluctant to share manufacturing information or to transfer technology and know-how, even though they share many common problems." Their fear of tipping off the competition to what they are doing, particularly in their manufacturing operations, too often borders on the ludicrous. There are few real secrets when you are using commercially-available equipment.

There is no such reluctance in Germany or Japan. Industry, government, and research organizations there come together easily. Research consortia grease the skids. It's a major reason why the US is losing its technological edge in many areas. In this Lone-Ranger approach to research, companies too often waste precious resources reinventing the wheel.

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences isn't an answer to all of the manufacturing woes in the US. But it's sure a step in the right direction; it does grease the skids to more effective use of research assets. Why not call to see if your firm can profit by becoming a part of such a consortium.
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:National Center for Manufacturing Sciences
Author:Modic, Stanley J.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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