Wednesday, August 10th, 2011
Recently I had an outstanding opportunity to meet with key leaders of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) headquartered in Gaithersburg, MD. NIST, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, was founded in 1901 as the nation’s first federal physical science research laboratory. Over the years, the scientists and technical staff at NIST have made major contributions to image processing, DNA diagnostic “chips,” smoke detectors, atomic clocks, X-ray standards for mammography, and pollution-control technology. The individuals I met with are some of the brightest scientists in the U.S.
The meeting was coordinated by key individuals in NIST’s Polymers Division which is the largest organization within NIST specifically serving SPI members and the overall plastics industry. I talked with NIST about the major role that the plastics industry plays as the third largest manufacturing sector in the U.S., work that NIST is undertaking specific to plastics, and opportunities for SPI and its members to work more closely with NIST. I was amazed at the range of projects that NIST undertakes – from cutting edge scientific research to programs specifically geared to help grow U.S. manufacturing. So plastics industry professionals, are you aware of all that NIST offers you? Take a look at these examples:
Programs Established for Joint Industry/Government Partnerships
- As I’ve blogged about previously, the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) is a nationwide network of centers to assist small and mid-sized U.S. manufacturers to help them create and retain jobs, increase profits, and save time and money. The nationwide network provides a variety of services, from innovation strategies to process improvements to green manufacturing. MEP also works with partners at the state and federal levels on programs that put manufacturers in position to develop new customers, expand into new markets and create new products.
- The Technology Innovation Program (TIP) is a grant program where NIST and industry partners cost share the early-stage development of innovative but high-risk technologies. On the horizon and pending approval of the FY 2012 budget, TIP expects to hold funding competitions in one or more of the following research areas: manufacturing, advanced robotics and intelligent automation, civil infrastructure, energy, healthcare, water. SPI will keep its members posted when the competition is announced.
User Facilities Open to Industry
- NIST’s Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) performs research in nanotechnology, both through internal research efforts and by running a user-accessible cleanroom nanomanufacturing facility. This ‘NanoFab’ is equipped with tools for lithographic patterning and imaging (e.g. electron microscopes and atomic force microscopes). The CNST’s shared-use NanoFab gives researchers economical access to and training on a state-of-the-art tool set required for cutting-edge nanotechnology development. The simple application process is designed to get projects started in a few weeks.
- The neutron science user facility called the NIST Center for Neutron Research (NCNR) provides scientists access to a variety of neutron scattering instruments, which are used in many fields of research (materials science, fuel cells, biotechnology, etc.). This type of equipment, is crucial to fully understanding industrial commodity and specialty polymers to better understand structure, dynamics and other properties. Some SPI members have tapped into the NCNR, but many more opportunities still exist.
Measurements and Standards
How are you sure that your company is measuring melt flow rate correctly? Or how do you know you have the right molecular weight calibration for a polymer? NIST can help you out here. As part of its mission, NIST supplies industry, academia, government, and other users with over 1,300 Standard Reference Materials (SRMs). These artifacts are certified as having specific characteristics or component content, used as calibration standards for measuring equipment and procedures, quality control benchmarks for industrial processes, and experimental control samples. So if you want to make sure you are measuring certain properties the right way, tap into NIST’s resources. Also, don’t forget about the Material Measurement Laboratory, whose activities range from fundamental and applied research on the composition, structure and properties of industrial, biological and environmental materials and processes to the development of best practice guides that help assure measurement quality.
NIST has a number of other plastics related groups such as the Polymeric Materials Group (which develops and implements methodologies and metrologies for determining the scientific origins of materials degradation required for predicting the service life of polymeric materials, components, and systems exposed in their intended or accelerated exposure environments), the Sustainable Composites Project (focused on the development of tools to measure the fundamental structure-processing and structure -property relations associated with sustainable polymer composites), and much more.
My meetings were just the beginning steps in growing the relationship between SPI and NIST. SPI wants to ensure that the plastics industry doesn’t miss out on great opportunities to work with some of the world’s brightest scientists to advance the industry.