Glossary of Advanced Manufacturing Terms

This glossary is intended as a practical and easy-to-use guide to common terms used in the advanced manufacturing industry. While we have made every effort to present current and accurate definitions, the glossary should be considered as a resource and not as an authoritative reference. Because the industry is ever evolving and complex, it is impractical to include every applicable term.

For more detail on a particular item, refer to the bibliography.

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3D Printing

A specific additive manufacturing technology, however, this term has gained common usage to describe all manner of additive manufacturing. See Additive Manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing

The construction of complex three-dimensional parts from 3D digital model data by depositing successive layers of material. Metal, polymer, and ceramic materials can be used to manufacture parts of a geometry that often cannot be produced by any other manufacturing technology. The names of specific additive manufacturing technologies include: 3D printing, layered object manufacturing, selective laser sintering, selective laser melting, LENS, stereolithography, and fused deposition modeling. Synonyms include layered manufacturing, solid freeform manufacturing, direct digital manufacturing, rapid prototyping.1

Advanced Manufacturing

Use of innovative technologies to create existing products and the creation of new products. Advanced manufacturing can include production activities that depend on information, automation, computation, software, sensing, and networking.2

Agile Manufacturing

Tools, techniques, and initiatives (such as lean and flexible manufacturing) to help a plant and/or organization rapidly respond to their customers, the market, and innovations. It can also incorporate “mass customization” concepts to meet unique customer needs as well as "quick response manufacturing" to reduce lead times across an enterprise.3,4


Using control systems to operate an apparatus, process, or system with minimal or reduced direct human intervention.5


Formal programs that compare a plant’s practices and performance results against "best-in-class" competitors or against similar operations.


A point of congestion in a manufacturing system that arises when parts arrive at a given machine/operation faster than that machine/operation can process them.6

Cellular Manufacturing

When dissimilar equipment and workstations to produce a family of similar components or subassemblies are arranged close together to save space and time, and simplify process routing and supervision. Workers are typically cross-trained to perform multiple tasks within a manufacturing cell.7


Materials comprised of two or more components with significantly different physical or chemical properties, that when combined, produce a material that behaves differently from the individual components. The individual components remain separate and distinct within the finished structure. Examples of engineered composite materials include: carbon fiber-reinforced polymers, metal matric composites, ceramic matrix composites, cement, concrete. Wood is an example of a naturally occurring composite material.

Computer Numerical Control

The digital control of a physical machine that consists of a series of integrated actuators, power electronics, sensors, and dedicated computer running under a real-time operating system. Computer numerical control (CNC) can control multiple machines, usually when they are grouped in a manufacturing cell. This is a form of digital automation.1

Computer-Aided Design

"Computer-aided design (CAD) is the use of a wide range of computer-based tools that assist engineers, architects, and other design professionals in their design activities. It is the main geometry authoring tool within the Product Lifecycle Management process and involves both software and sometimes special-purpose hardware."1

Computer-Aided Manufacturing

In general, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) refers to "the use of computer systems to plan, manage, and control the operations of a manufacturing plant through either direct or indirect computer interface with the plant's production resources."1 Computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) often refers to software that takes the geometric design authored with CAD software as input and outputs manufacturing instructions that are downloaded to automated equipment such as a computer numerically controlled (CNC) machine tool. Is also referred to as computer-assisted manufacturing.1

Computer-Integrated Manufacturing

"An approach to integrate production-related information and control entire production processes, automated lines, plants, and networks by using computers and a common database."1

Continuous-Flow Manufacturing

A manufacturing method in which the materials (dry bulk or fluids) that are being processed are continuously in motion, undergoing mechanical, thermal, and/or chemical treatment. This is the opposite of batch production. Synonyms include: continuous manufacturing, continuous processing, continuous production, and continuous flow process.8


Training employees in several skill sets so they can fill in for one another as needed.

Digital Manufacturing

Aims to improve product design and manufacturing processes across the board seamless integration of information technology systems across the supply chain. Digital manufacturing focuses on reducing the time and cost of manufacturing by integrating and using data from design, production, and product use; digitizing manufacturing operations to improve product, process, and enterprise performance, and tools for modeling and advanced analytics, throughout the product life cycle.

Discrete Manufacturing

Producing finished products that can be recognized as distinct physical units via serial numbers or other labeling methods.

Flexible Manufacturing System

Integrated group of manufacturing equipment and/or cross-trained work teams that can produce a variety of parts in the mid-volume production range. Flexible refers to the systems capability to manufacture different part variants and production quantity can be adjusted in response to changing demand.1

Industry 4.0

A term coined in Germany, popularly used in Europe, and equivalent to smart manufacturing. See Digital Manufacturing.


Just-in-time (JIT) techniques reduce setup times, inventory, and waste, and improve products and reduce manufacturing cycle time. Synonyms include: continuous-flow production. JIT is a total manufacturing system that was first introduced by Toyota Motor Corporation.1


Practice of focusing on continuous process improvement.9

Lean Manufacturing

A manufacturing practice that aims to reduce wasted time, effort or other resources in the production process.

Manufacturing cost

Includes quality-related costs, direct and indirect labor, equipment repair and maintenance, other manufacturing support and overhead, and other costs directly associated with manufacturing operations.

Manufacturing Cycle Time

The time of actual production from the moment a customer order arrives on the plant floor to the completion of all product manufacturing, assembly, and testing.

Manufacturing Innovation Institute

A Manufacturing Innovation Institute is a public-private partnership of companies, academia, state and local governments and federal agencies that co-invest in developing world-leading technologies and capabilities. Each institute creates the necessary focus and provides the state-of-the-art facilities needed to allow collaborative, mostly pre-competitive development of promising technologies. An institute provides workforce education and training in advanced manufacturing. An institute promotes the creation of a stable and sustainable innovation ecosystem for advanced manufacturing.

Manufacturing USA

The brand name for the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation Program.

National Network for Manufacturing Innovation

As a part of the strategy to revitalize American manufacturing, the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation Act of 2014 authorizes the Department of Commerce to establish and convene a nationwide "network" comprised of the individual Manufacturing Innovation Institutes, which can enhance their impacts and further strengthen America's global competitiveness.

North American Industry Classification System

A coding system of the U.S., Mexican, and Canadian governments that identifies specific economic sectors.9


Original equipment manufacturer.

Planning and Scheduling Technologies

A variety of software-based advanced planning, scheduling, and optimization systems.

Process Manufacturing

Manufacturing products such as chemicals, gasoline, beverages, and food products in "batch" quantities.

Product-Development Cycle

Often called time to market, this is the period from when design/development work begins to the time that the final product is available for purchase.

Rapid Prototyping

Techniques to quickly fabricate a scale model of a physical part or assembly. Historically, this term has referred to the use of additive manufacturing to create the part. The term is falling out of favor to describe all additive manufacturing technologies because they are seen as being able to do more than just prototyping: i.e., they are now being used for production of final parts and assemblies.


Mechanical or electrical engineering coupled with computer science used to design, construct, operate, and apply robots. It also includes the computer systems for their control, sensory feedback, and information processing. Where a robot is a reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices through various programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks.

Six Sigma

One method of preparing and controlling the compliance of processes and products with predetermined quality standards. Six Sigma at many organizations simply means a measure of quality that strives for near perfection. Six Sigma is a disciplined, data-driven approach and methodology for eliminating defects (driving toward six standard deviations between the mean and the nearest specification limit) in any process. To achieve Six Sigma, a process must not produce more than 3.4 defects per million opportunities.1

Smart manufacturing

Aims to reduce manufacturing costs from the perspective of real-time energy management, energy productivity, and process energy efficiency. Initiatives will create a networked data driven process platform that combines innovative modeling and simulation and advanced sensing and control. Integrates efficiency intelligence in real-time across an entire production operation with primary emphasis on minimizing energy and material use; particularly relevant for energy-intensive manufacturing sectors.

Supply-Chain/Logistics Systems

Manufacturing software to optimize scheduling and other activities throughout the supply chain.

Total Quality Management

A company-wide approach to improving quality and customer satisfaction–including fast response and service, as well as product.