Washington, D.C. Defense Manufacturing Technology Promotion Group Achieves 'Critical Mass'
BY RICHARD McCORMACK
A Washington, D.C. interest group aimed at promoting defense manufacturing technology issues has attracted a robust group of enthusiastic participants. The National Defense Industry Association's Manufacturing Division is pursuing an agenda aimed at fortifying the U.S. defense industrial base, and it is filling a niche that has long been vacant.
"The folks who are involved have a passion for the topic, which is the right group to be with," says NDIA Manufacturing Division chair Edward Morris, director of hardware and manufacturing on the Lockheed Martin Corp. Engineering and Technology Team. "When I was approached to help start a manufacturing committee in NDIA, I said, 'Yeah, that is the right organization to do this.' "
Richard Engwall, former manufacturing executive with Westinghouse and recipient of the 2002 multi-association "Manufacturing Excellence Award" said: "It's the only effort in town pushing anything."
There are now about 40 people involved in the NDIA Manufacturing Division addressing issues such as budgetary support for the Defense Mantech program, new DOD-wide manufacturing R&D initiatives, manufacturing workforce recruitment and retention, supply chain management, public policy support for manufacturing, and the development of Manufacturing Readiness Levels (MRLs).
"Our objectives are to advocate national support for defense manufacturing, promote defense manufacturing excellence, support promising technologies and processes and conduct industry forums focused on defense manufacturing," says Morris. "Because it's a volunteer army, the scope and depth of what we can take on is based on how many volunteers we have. We have a desire to be more and more successful in making a difference and continue to grow the group. We have crossed critical mass and so we are adding more capability with more people getting involved."
Defense manufacturing as a discrete subject worthy of industry, government and academic support has had a difficult time finding a solid advocacy group, mostly because of the nature of manufacturing itself. Those who are involved in manufacturing tend to focus on "getting the product out today," explains Morris. "We are focused on whatever we have to do to solve the fire-drill issues today, which tend to be all consuming, and that means there is little time to think about tomorrow and beyond," he says. "We suffer from that sort of short-term vision and there is a clear need to think way beyond the horizon."
The defense manufacturing technology community tends to be a "bill payer" in the DOD budget process, Morris adds. This has been a recurring problem for the Mantech budget and efforts to fund the development of revolutionary manufacturing technologies and processes that could be applied throughout the military services and across military platforms.
The group wants to build an awareness campaign describing the importance of manufacturing to the affordability and sustainability of new weapons systems. Quoting former Lockheed Martin CEO Norm Augustine, Morris says: "If we continue on some of these trends we will have one airplane for all the pilots to fly....The objective of affordable weaponry for the warfighter is paramount."
Globalization is part of the impetus behind the group's creation, though it's not part of its charter, per se. As production capacity shifts offshore, a new world order is unfolding for the entire U.S. defense enterprise. Companies must take advantage of lower-cost sources of foreign supplies, but doing so means increasing national security vulnerabilities. An underlying issue is whether the United States can remain a military superpower without having a robust industrial base to support it. The NDIA Manufacturing Division does not directly address this issue, but it's on people's minds.
More information on the division, including its quarterly meeting scheduled for Nov. 14 and 15 in Washington, D.C., can be found at www.ndia.org by clicking on the "Divisions" tab on the left side of the home page.
NDIA Manufacturing Division Executive Committee
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