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Blog Category: National Institute of Standards and Technology

Making U.S. Manufacturing Stronger

Making U.S. Manufacturing Stronger

Guest blog post by Phillip Singerman, Associate Director for Innovation and Industry Services at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST)

During his visit to Cleveland, Ohio, today, President Obama highlighted increased investment in a unique program that makes sure small and medium-size U.S. manufactures have the support they need to innovate, grow and succeed.

The president visited the Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network (MAGNET), one of 60 centers across the country in the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP).  MAGNET is one of the Ohio MEP affiliates located at Cleveland State University. These centers have helped manufacturers such as Ohio-based Wright Materials Research and Heather Moore Jewelry make improvements that led to the hiring of new staff, sped delivery of their products and generated new sales.

As a new report released by the White House (which was supported by our colleagues at the Economics and Statistics Administration) finds that small and medium-size companies like these form the backbone of America’s manufacturing supply chains and employ nearly half of all U.S. manufacturing workers.

There are many success stories in MEP’s 26-year history that demonstrate the benefits of investing in these manufacturers. And we plan to support many more. MEP has issued a Federal Funding Opportunity for non-profit organizations to operate centers in Alaska, Idaho, Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. This is the second round of competitions in a multiyear effort to update MEP’s funding structure and will strengthen the network. We announced the first competition awardees in February 2015.

NIST’s MRI Measurement Tools to Help Diagnose Veterans’ Traumatic Brain Injuries

Brain wiring diagram made by high-definition fiber tracking magnetic resonance imaging (HDFT MRI) of water diffusion. The technique is useful for studies of traumatic brain injury.

More than 300,000 U.S. veterans have been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury (TBI) in recent years, a legacy of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. While severe TBI can be obvious, milder cases involving symptoms such as memory loss or inability to concentrate are difficult to confirm and treat.

Advanced imaging of the microscopic motion of water molecules in the brain shows promise for detecting these subtle injuries. A new study of TBI using this diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technique will get a quality control boost from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), which has been working in collaboration with other organizations for nearly a decade to improve quantitative measures for MRI.*

NIST has developed a series of MRI “phantoms” to enable measurements that can be traced to international standards.** Phantoms are stable reference objects designed to mimic human tissue responses to MRI, but in a predictable, repeatable way. They are used to calibrate MRI scanners.

As interest in quantitative MRI measurements grows, NIST phantoms are being tested around the world, used in U.S. clinical trials, and transferred to industry. The goal is to improve image comparisons across scanners, test sites and time, thereby enhancing quality of care and reducing medical costs. NIST has applied for a patent on its basic phantom design and use to help promote commercialization.***

NIST and collaborators have already developed a phantom for diffusion MRI, which is now being tested in Europe and the United States. “It has shown very good reproducibility so far,” NIST’s Michael Boss says. “Diffusion MRI can reveal differences between tumors and normal tissue. But until now, there has been no widely accepted phantom or traceability to standards. NIST’s expertise lies in phantom development and what characteristics they should have in order to determine sources of error and inform protocols to be used with MRI patients.”

A new quantitative MRI study, co-led by researchers from NIST and three other institutions, will look for evidence of brain injury in patients with suspected TBI. The two-year study is part of a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) effort to reliably diagnose TBI and predict outcomes and care needs. The study requires the creation of a new, head-sized MRI phantom to measureanisotropic diffusion, which tracks water molecules as they move in specific directions through the brain. Their motions can reveal structural information such as abnormalities in neural pathways. Nerve cell damage is believed to be a driving factor in TBI. Diffusion imaging has revealed changes in brain structure in some people with mild TBI; researchers say it has great potential to characterize and quantify the integrity of brain tissue.

Lab to Market: When One Plus One Equals Three

Lab to Market: When One Plus One Equals Three

Guest blog post by Paul R. Zielinski, MS, MBA, Director, Technology Partnerships Office, National Institute of Standards and Technology & Chair, Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer

When you want a plant to grow, you provide water, light, and fertilizer.   When you want an economy to grow you provide capital, labor, and innovation.

In today’s global markets, companies that don’t innovate generally don’t survive for long.  To keep your current customers and earn new ones, you must continually look for ways to be faster, cheaper, better . . .  or all three. 

At the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) we specialize in helping industry find those “Wow!” innovation ideas that create jobs and raise everyone’s standard of living.

We do this in lots of ways under  an approach  we call lab to market. We develop new measurement tools and standards to make sure new products can be measured fairly against established ones. We advance basic science to enable new technologies. And we work collaboratively with industry researchers in our laboratories to help them bring new research tools and knowledge back to their companies to be commercialized into new products.

We also have another tool for fueling innovation at small businesses, seed money. Commerce is one of 11 agencies with extramural research and development funding that makes awards to small businesses through the Small Business Innovation Research Program(SBIR) to perform research supporting the agency’s mission.  Awards can also be made to businesses to commercialize innovations, including innovations already developed by federal research and development programs. 

For example, at NIST, Phase I grants through SBIR provide up to $100,000 over six months to demonstrate that a proposed research effort is feasible and likely to successfully advance a commercially promising technology. NIST is currently seeking applications for SBIR awardsthat address specific technologies in a wide range of fields including advanced manufacturing, climate change and clean energy, cybersecurity, health care, and bioscience.

Weights and Measures Week 2015: On the Path to Tomorrow

Weights and Measures Week 2015: On the Path to Tomorrow

Guest blog post by Carol Hockert, Director, Office of Weights and Measures, National Institute of Standards and Technology 

It’s held annually during the first week of March to commemorate President John Adams's signing of the first U.S. weights and measures law on March 2, 1799, but you may not be aware of it. Weights and Measures Week is when we as a nation take a moment to sing the praises of our unsung heroes, weights and measures inspectors and other weights and measures professionals and recognize the well-lubricated machine that is the U.S. commercial measurement system. It is also a good time to reflect on how the ever-evolving commercial marketplace drives the need for continual changes in that system. 

Many may think that, aside from the occasional redefinition, the standard units of measure are more or less fixed and there is relatively little need to change. 

Not so! 

Certainly ensuring uniformity and making sure that the chain of measurements from their ultimate realizations all the way down to the consumer level is unbroken and as accurate as possible is a large part of what the whole weights and measures system is about. But, as new products and services come on the market, supporting measurement standards and practices need to be put in place to help ensure that people know what they’re getting and for how much and to ensure that businesses selling those products and services are able to fairly compete. 

To recognize this, the National Conference on Weights and Measures (NCWM) has made this year’s Weights and Measures Week theme “On the Path to Tomorrow.” NCWM is a professional nonprofit association of state and local weights and measures officials, manufacturers, retailers, and consumers that develops model codes that states use as a template for new weights and measures-related laws. 

“During the 110-year history of the NCWM, we have seen a number of advancements, from mechanical devices to highly sophisticated software-based weighing and measuring instruments and now apps used on smart phones,” NCWM Chairman Ronald Hayes said in a press release. 

With technical guidance from NIST, the NCWM is working to help pave the regulatory path forward for startup companies like Uber and Lyft that are using GPS to calculate passenger transport fares, alongside more conventional methods of measurement. Once complete, the model regulations for these systems will be included in NIST Handbook 44 so that states can adopt them, in whole or in part, into their regulatory structure.

Spotlight on Commerce: Cecelia V. Royster, Director, Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management, Bureau Procurement Official, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Spotlight on Commerce: Cecelia V. Royster, Director, Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management, Bureau Procurement Official, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to building a middle class economy in honor of Black History Month

Guest blog post by Cecelia V. Royster, Director, Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management, Bureau Procurement Official, National Institute of Standards and Technology

Black history month has a special place in my heart. When I began my federal government career 30 years ago with the U.S. Coast Guard, it was when I learned of the many inspiring accomplishments of African Americans. There was Captain Richard Etheridge, who became the first African-American to command a Life-Saving station in North Carolina in 1880, and Captain Michael Healy or “Hell Roaring Mike”, who took command of the revenue cutter Chandler in 1877. During his 20-year career, Captain Healy was the United States Government in most of Alaska where he acted as judge, doctor, and policeman to Alaskan natives, merchant seamen and whaling crews. And more recently, Admiral Stephen Rochon, the first African-American to serve as Chief Usher of the White House, was a good friend and mentor to me during my Coast Guard career. Black History month allowed me to cherish my heritage, and appreciate the contributions of these great men. 

So I’m especially honored to share my own story of a career in public service this month. 

I was born in Washington, D.C. of parents from the mountains south of Lynchburg, Va., who believed in and demonstrated the values of integrity, attention to detail and above all, a strong work ethic. Both of my parents worked and retired from lifetime careers in the federal government and my father, a decorated Korean War Veteran and U.S Army retiree, insisted that our home stress the values of family accountability and devotion to duty and country. 

I grew up singing in the choir and being a member of the junior usher board at our family African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church. As a young teen, I attended Kittrell College, which was a part of the AME church, every summer for a one week summer session which provided young African American students with an introduction to African art, poetry and highlighted the careers of successful African American entrepreneurs, physicians, scientist and educators. 

Currently, I am the Director of the Office of Acquisition and Agreements Management (OAAM), and the Bureau Procurement Official (BPO) for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) where I oversee the full range of the $1 billion acquisition and financial assistance activities awarded for NIST and seven client Bureaus under the Department of Commerce to support ongoing programs, operations and mission objectives.  NIST technological research activities - cover an incredibly diverse range of disciplines including  bioscience, health care, chemistry, neutron research, nanotechnology, information technology, , manufacturing, public safety, energy, physics, cybersecurity and computer technology laboratory practices for all aspects of advanced science. 

Commerce's NIST Awards $26 Million to Support Manufacturing in 10 States

Commerce's NIST Awards $26 Million to Support Manufacturing in 10 States

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) today announced the award of new cooperative agreements to 10 nonprofit organizations and universities to manage Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers. NIST’s MEP program helps small- and mid-size manufacturers create and retain jobs, increase profits and save time and money. In an open competition, the existing MEP centers in Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia, were selected to receive a total of $26 million in federal funding, an increase of about $10 million or nearly 60 percent. The funding will allow the centers to reach new customers and offer new services.

“We are excited to award new agreements that bring increased funding levels to better meet the needs of manufacturers in these 10 states,” said Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Acting NIST Director Willie May. “These awards will allow the centers to help more manufacturers reach their goals in growth and innovation, which will have a positive impact on both their communities and the U.S. economy.”

In August 2014, NIST announced a competition for the centers in these 10 states as the first step in a multi-year effort to update MEP’s funding structure to better match resources with needs. In March 2014, the Government Accountability Office recommended that MEP update its distribution of funds, which were allocated according to the award each center received when it was first established. The original awards to these states were made more than 10 years ago, and the MEP investment in terms of dollars per manufacturing establishment was below its national average, making them the most underfunded of MEP’s 60 centers.

Proposals were reviewed by government and independent experts and evaluated against a number of criteria, including demonstration of a thorough understanding of market needs and how proposed service offerings would meet those needs. The reviewers also looked at the proposed business models, performance measurements and metrics, partnership potential, staff qualifications and program management, as well as financial and non-federal cost-share plans.

The new cooperative agreements are for five years, subject to the availability of annual appropriations and successful annual reviews.

NIST Awards $20 Million for Research Center to Help Communities Increase Resilience to Disaster

 NIST Awards $20 Million for Research Center to Help Communities Increase Resilience to Disaster

The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) announced today that it has awarded a $20 million cooperative agreement to Colorado State University (CSU) to establish the Community Resilience Center of Excellence. Working with NIST researchers and partners from 10 other universities, the center will develop computer tools to help local governments decide how each can best invest resources intended to lessen the impact of extreme weather and other hazards on buildings and infrastructure and to recover rapidly in their aftermath.

The Fort Collins-based center will receive $4 million annually for five years. NIST has the option to renew the award for five additional years, depending on performance and the availability of funds.

“This center complements NIST’s long-standing efforts to improve the performance of the built environment against natural hazards—such as tornadoes, coastal flooding, wildfires and earthquakes—as well as large-scale, human-caused disruptions,” said Acting Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and Acting NIST Director Willie May. “The tools developed by the center will help to further advance the important goal of disaster resilience from ambitious concepts to cost-effective solutions that communities can implement over time.”

Community disaster resilience includes preparing for anticipated hazards, adapting to changing conditions, and withstanding and recovering rapidly from disruptions.

Richard Cavanagh, NIST Acting Associate Director for Laboratory Programs, announced the award at the NIST Disaster Resilience Workshop in Del Mar, Calif. The meeting is the fourth in a series of regional workshops that NIST has convened to gather input from a broad network of stakeholders as the agency drafts its Disaster Resilience Framework.

The framework will provide guidance to communities as they consider pre- and post-event actions and investments to prevent future hazards from inflicting devastating consequences. The framework focuses on buildings and infrastructure systems, such as power, communication, water and transportation. It also will address how to maintain social services and institutions vital to meeting the needs of community residents, as well as economic functions. Work at the new center will support this sustained effort.

Secretary Pritzker Participates in White House Cyber Security Summit to Discuss Importance of Public-Private Collaboration To Combat Growing Threats

Secretary Penny Pritzker joined President Barack Obama last week at the White House Cyber Security Summit at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. Designed to help shape public and private sector efforts to protect American consumers and companies from growing threats, the Summit offered Secretary Pritzker an opportunity to hear directly from businesses about their concerns, and to highlight the Commerce Department’s work to combat these threats and strengthen our nation’s cybersecurity.

During the Summit, business leaders across many sectors spoke about the growing issues of online security and how to best protect businesses, consumers and critical infrastructure. Secretary Pritzker moderated a panel titled “Improving Cybersecurity Practices at Consumer Oriented Businesses and Organizations,” that brought together CEOs and business executives from the financial services sector, the technology industry, and civil society. Panelists included Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, MasterCard CEO Ajay Banga, AIG CEO Peter Hancock, Intel Corporation’s President Renee James, and Center for Democracy and Technology CEO Nuala O’ Connor.

During the panel Secretary Pritzker asked each panelist how they can align policies and operations to better protect themselves and their customers, and asked them what ways they thought would be the most efficient for government and industry to partner in developing stronger security standards. Each of the panelists praised the effectiveness of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework in creating a benchmarking process that companies should adhere to. With technology evolving quickly, participants also stressed that there should be more collaboration between businesses and the government to address cybersecurity concerns. 

To further this dialogue, Secretary Pritzker attended a luncheon roundtable hosted by President Obama with the CEOs of Apple, Square, QVC, Visa, First Data, Intel, AIG, Mastercard, Bank of America, Citi, American Express, PG&E, and Palo Alto Networks where they discussed how to move these concerns to the forefront and work together to find solutions to these growing threats.

Cybersecurity is a shared responsibility, and the United States government has legitimate interests in safeguarding the privacy and security of its citizens, as well as ensuring an equitable and level playing field in the digital economy. Secretary Pritzker understands this notion and recognizes that the NIST Framework, which was developed using a multi-stakeholder process involving many of the companies that attended the summit, is a great example of how the private and public sectors can work together to find timely, effective solutions.

Manufacturing Innovation: Gaining the Advantage In a Fiercely Competitive Global Economy

Manufacturing Innovation: Gaining the Advantage In a Fiercely Competitive Global Economy

Guest blog post by Mike Molnar, Director, Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office and NIST Advanced Manufacturing Program Office 

Good ideas—for new products, new processes, or new services—are terrible things to waste.

Yet, time and time again, inventions and discoveries that first sprouted in the U.S. have taken root in the factories and economies of other nations. Think of computer-controlled machine tools, solar cells, industrial robots, consumer-electronics devices, lithium-ion batteries . . .

To many, the list is painfully familiar. And the costs are too: lost jobs, shuttered manufacturing plants, withering supply chains, trade deficits, lost opportunities for spin-off technologies, and more.

But wait, a far better story for U.S. manufacturing is beginning to take shape.  Over the past five years, U.S. manufacturers have added an average of nearly 15,000 new jobs every month, and exports have grown at an average annual rate of 10 percent—or more than three times faster than the average for the preceding decade.

And now, U.S. industry and the federal government are taking deliberate strides to seize and maintain an innovation advantage in the fiercely competitive global economy. One key step is the establishment of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI), accomplished with the inclusion of the bipartisan Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act in the government funding bill passed by Congress last December.

This young partnership, consisting of regional hubs of manufacturing innovation, is devoted to the economy- growing principle that if a technology is invented in the U.S., we should do our very best to make it here.  The NNMI institutes will leverage the individual and collective knowledge, talents, capabilities, and resources of industry, university, and government partners. These collaborations will cultivate promising discoveries and ideas into new technologies and into cost-effective ways to convert these innovations into American-made products sold to customers around the world.

There’s no time to waste. The competition has a head start. China, Korea, Germany, Taiwan, and other nations intent on building innovation-driven economies already have mounted major programs and the supporting infrastructure to sustain long-term collaborations—the kind required to speed research breakthroughs into proofs of concept, then prototypes, and, ultimately, manufacturable products and related services.

The Benefits of IMCP

A US Navy welder works at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Photo courtesy US Navy

Guest Blog by Sarah Lee, Principal Economic Development Manager, Puget Sound Regional Council

Washington State brought in $7 million in IMCP-aligned federal agency funds just months after receiving one of the “manufacturing community” designations from the U.S. Department of Commerce. That’s a pretty shining endorsement of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership (IMCP) program, right? But the truth is Washington State began reaping the benefits of the program even before we submitted our application. The value of this program is about even more than funding.

Our IMCP application was based on the Washington Aerospace Strategy, already developed by the Governor’s Office of Aerospace and the Washington Aerospace Partnership, so we had a head start. The application process pushed us to dig deeper, to prioritize projects and firm up commitments. We reached out to more stakeholders than we had before, which meant we uncovered great programs and projects and discovered partners we didn’t even know we had.

For example, we hadn’t fully explored what our local Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) could do for us. MEP is a National Institute of Standards and Technology program that helps small and medium manufacturers create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money. With a median size of 98 employees, our state’s aerospace suppliers definitely qualify for MEP programs. As a result, two of the six catalytic investments outlined in our IMCP plan are projects developed in partnership with our MEP. We have already secured funds for one of those projects, and the MEP relationship continues to open new doors.