January 6, 2017
Capitol Update

In this issue:


DEADLINE TO APPLY FOR ASME FELLOWSHIPS FAST APPROACHING! LEARN MORE ABOUT ASME’S CONGRESSIONAL FELLOWS BY VISITING THE ASME PUBLIC POLICY EDUCATION CENTER!

The January 31st deadline to apply for a 2017-2018 ASME Congressional Fellowship and an ASME Foundation Swanson Fellowship at the Advanced Manufacturing National Program Office Fellowship is fast approaching!

Since 1973, ASME has sponsored over 100 Federal Fellows, providing them with an opportunity to serve a one-year term in the Administration or U.S. Congress. Fellows serve as independent, non-biased advisors in engineering, science and technology, bringing a nonpartisan, pragmatic approach to analysis and input which has a profound impact on the decision making process. The result is effective and technologically appropriate public policy based on sound engineering principles.

The new 115th Congress will address major legislative and policy issues that are facing our nation and as federal legislation becomes increasingly technical, the need for engineering expertise is essential, which is why this program is so invaluable.

Read more about the opportunities and challenges confronting some of our current and past fellows by visiting the ASME Public Policy Education Center (PPEC):

To learn more about the ASME Federal Government Fellowship Program, listen to a recent archived webinar at:
http://ppec.asme.org/latest-news/webinar-recording-available-for-asme-members-and-non-members/, and apply for one of the 2017-2018 Fellowships at:
https://www.asme.org/about-asme/get-involved/advocacy-government-relations/federal-fellows-program


ASME CONGRESSIONAL ROBOTICS BRIEFING ON ADVANCED ROBOTICS IN MANUFACTURING

ASME recently held a Congressional Briefing on “Advanced Robotics in Manufacturing.” Moderating the panel was Chuck Thorpe, Senior Vice President and Provost of Clarkson University and Co-Chair of the ASME Robotics Public Policy Task Force. The four panelists included:

  • Howie Choset, Carnegie Mellon University, Professor of Robotics; Medrobotics, Inc., Co-Founder
  • Larry Sweet, Georgia Institute of Technology, IRIM Associate Director of Technology Transition and Professor of the Practice in Robotics
  • Erik Nieves, PlusOne Robotics, Founder and CEO
  • Michael Dudzik, IQM, President.

The briefing began with opening remarks delivered by Senator Chris Coons, a Co-Chair of the Senate Manufacturing Caucus. Senator Coons posed a few questions to the panelists to encourage discussion around how we can rise above the challenges facing the industry today, such as: What does the future of employment in the manufacturing industry look like and what does robotics in manufacturing mean for manufacturing jobs? How do we deal with cyber security as more elements of our manufacturing infrastructure rely on robotics? And how do we help small and medium-sized companies succeed with and adapt to new technologies? The Senator announced that he believes we have reason for optimism moving forward, citing the Manufacturing USA and Manufacturing Extension Partnerships (MEP) initiatives as opportunities for increased success in the coming year.

ASME President Keith Roe followed the Senator and shared ASME’s technology strategy and his excitement about the possibilities that come at the interaction of robotic technologies and manufacturing processes. He shared his hope to see the continuation of policies that are working to advance the industry in the coming year, including Manufacturing USA.

Moderator Chuck Thorpe formally set the stage, informing the audience as to how robots are changing the manufacturing environment. He said that we used to think of the “Ds” when we thought of manufacturing: dangerous, dull, and disappearing. Now, however, we think of three new Ds: (1) Dexterous: Robots can reach places and perform tasks that humans simply cannot or should not. Robots today can reach into the ribs of an airplane wing as well as the ribs of a cardiac patient. (2) Deeply integrated: Today, robotic technologies are built into the systems. Smart systems don’t look like robots, they look like cars and cranes and other things which the robotics are simply integrated into. (3) Disappearing…he doesn’t think so. New robotics technologies are encouraging new skills and new jobs to form. Thorpe ended with the idea that for further advancement, robotics needs mechanical engineering, and mechanical engineers need robotics, a connection that is often overlooked.

The first panelist to present was Howie Choset, who spoke to the relationship between robotics and jobs. He has a background in working with “snake robots” and works to engineer highly flexible systems to go into very small places. Flexibility is the key to advancing the industry, as robotic systems are expensive and 98.5% of manufacturers in the U.S. are small- or medium-sized manufacturers who do not have the capital to invest in technology that cannot adapt to future changes. Larry Sweet agreed and then spoke about the increased need for collaborative robotics. Many manufacturers see the opportunity to grow if they make the automation more flexible, so the key is to balance the risk of adopting a new technology with opportunity, and the key is to figure out how to make the systems flexible for increased productivity. Collaborative robots, flexible robots, and mobile robots are all new types of technologies that will inject flexibility into the system, prompting innovation and increased productivity. Today, robots and humans are co-habiting manufacturing floors, but working separately. In order to advance, humans and robots need to work together so that they can each preform the tasks the other cannot at the same time, on the same product.

Erik Nieves, an Industrial Robotics Engineer, spoke further about the impact of robotics on the small manufacturer. Most manufacturing that employs robots today is low-mix, high-volume production, meaning building the same thing over and over. Robots are extremely good at repetitive tasks, but they need to become better at doing high-mix, low-volume production. Three fourths of our industrial base is 20 employees or less, meaning the main place for growth in robotic manufacturing is with small companies. Michael Dudzik also provided a voice for small companies. He shared that robots come to the manufacturing floor first and foremost because of the business case and not because of technology for technology’s sake. It needs to be a good return on investment for a small company to invest its limited capital in a robot. That’s why robots today need to be agile and flexible. To overcome this, there needs to be further growth with systems integration in robotics. Dudzik suggests that Congress can help advance robotics by implementing policies that help accelerate the robotics ecosystem in the U.S. so that the U.S. manufacturing base can be more competitive globally. He suggests a “moonshot-like” intuitive and that the timing is critical as we are approaching the tipping point on reshoring in the United States.

A video of the entire briefing will be made available at a later date.


SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER LEADS TWO HEARINGS TO STUDY THE FUTURE OF U.S. NUCLEAR PLANTS

Before the December recess of Congress, U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, chaired oversight hearings on the future of nuclear power in America. The focus of the hearings was on basic energy research and development for nuclear power, the safe extension of reactor licenses from 60 to 80 years, and the development of new nuclear technologies--advanced reactors, small modular reactors, and accident tolerant nuclear fuels.

These hearings also discussed the actions taken to maintain the current state of nuclear power plants through investments and research at facilities, such as the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the need to foster a regulatory environment enabling innovation in nuclear technologies, and the recent Task Force Report on the Future of Nuclear Power from the Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board. The report had recommended an advanced nuclear reactor program to support the design, development, demonstration, licensing and construction of a first-of-a-kind commercial-scale reactor.

However, there are two key issues that must also be addressed for full cost competitiveness to be achieved for advanced U.S. reactors. First, nuclear overnight capital costs must decline, and electricity markets must recognize the value of carbon-free electricity generation based on the social cost of carbon emissions avoided. This can be done by either assessing a carbon-emission charge on electricity generation or by extending a production payment on carbon-free electricity generation of about $0.027 per kilowatt-electric-hour (kWe-hr) ($213 million for a 1,000 MWe reactor operating at 90% capacity factor) for a certain time.

Second, many aspects of the rules governing electricity rates and dispatch in different parts of the country make it difficult to value base load nuclear generation appropriately, which could lead to early U.S. plant retirements and discourage development and investment in new plants.

To read the testimony and watch the hearings, please visit:
http://www.appropriations.senate.gov/hearings/hearing-on-the-future-of-nuclear-power


FRAMEWORK FOR REGULATORY OVERSIGHT OF LABORATORY DEVELOPED TESTS NOT FINALIZED

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it would not finalize the draft guidance entitled Framework for Regulatory Oversight of Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs) before President Obama’s administration ends. Issued as draft guidance in October 2014, it describes how the FDA will shift to a risk-based framework where LDTs would be regulated as medical devices pursuant to the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA).

According to a FDA spokesperson, “The FDA believes that patients and health care providers need accurate, reliable, and clinically valid tests to make good health care decisions — inaccurate or false test results can harm individual patients. We have been working to develop a new oversight policy for laboratory developed tests, one that balances patient protection with continued access and innovation, and realize just how important it is that we continue to work with stakeholders, our new Administration, and Congress to get our approach right. We plan to outline our view of an appropriate risk-based approach in the near future. It is our hope that such an approach will help guide continued discussions.”

More information is available at:
http://www.wsj.com/articles/fda-backs-off-plans-to-issue-rules-governing-lab-developed-tests-1479529259


NEW EPA REPORT ASSESSES HYDRAULIC FRACTURING ON DRINKING WATER RESOURCES

The Environmental Protection Agency recently released a new report, Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas: Impacts from the Hydraulic Fracturing Water Cycle on Drinking Water Resources in the United States, which cites evidence that activities in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle can impact drinking water resources.

As part of the report, conditions were identified under which impacts from hydraulic fracturing activities can be more frequent or severe. The report also identifies uncertainties and data gaps that limited EPA’s ability to fully assess impacts to drinking water resources, both locally and nationally. The report is intended to be used as a guide to help states and others better protect drinking water resources in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs or is being considered.

More information about the report, including links to the executive summary and a document outlining frequently asked questions about the assessment, can be found at: https://www.epa.gov/hfstudy


NATIONAL NANOTECHNOLOGY INITIATIVE SIGNALING FOCUS ON COLLABORATION ‘ECOSYSTEM’ TO PROMOTE DATA SHARING AND SIMULATIONS

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) recently released the triennial update of its strategic plan, which includes a new feature that stresses the need to further develop the nanotechnology community’s collaboration “ecosystem” and to promote the development and sharing of data, computer models, and simulations and a strategic focus in NNI’s efforts to spur commercialization.

The strategic plan provides a general “framework” to guide and harmonize the actions of the federal departments and agencies participating in the initiative while suggesting the issues and trends the initiative’s leaders deem important for future policy decision making.  With nanotechnology evolving from an area of fundamental research to an enabling technology, there are new efforts focused on utilizing these materials and devices to develop nanotechnology-enabled systems.  This phase will require a robust ecosystem that supports fundamental discovery, fosters innovation, and promotes the transfer of nanotechnology discoveries from lab to market, along with continued efforts to ensure the safety of nanotechnology-enabled products across their entire life cycle.

To review the plan, please visit: https://www.nano.gov/node/1696