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Estimating the Contributions to Industry Productivity and the Impacts on the U.S. Economy of 'A Systems Solution to Quality Problems in Auto Body Manufacturing' - the 2mm project
Professor Karen R. Polenske

In 1991, The U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) sponsored research to assist U.S. manufacturers improve the quality of auto and truck bodies. Laser measurement instruments and software were developed to compute the variation of body openings ("gaps") at dozens of points over the vehicle body during assembly operations. A rigorous approach to quality monitoring was to be incorporated into the manufacturing process, resulting in maximum variation of finished openings of 2mm, near best-practice level. In 1999 NIST hired a team of MIT researchers to evaluate the impacts of the 2mm project.

Study Objective

Estimate the economic impact of new technologies on the U.S. economy. Such impacts may occur among domestic manufacturers in the automobile industry as well as other industries to which the technology has spread. Proponents of the 2mm technology identify the following possible impacts:

  • Improved capital and labor productivity in assembly operations.
  • Reduced new vehicle launch time and time needed to reach acceptable vehicle quality.
  • Reduced rework time and scrap costs.
  • Improved perception of vehicle quality on part of consumers.
  • Raise quality standards to compete at best-practice levels.
  • Improve cooperation between suppliers and manufacturer.


  1. Using data gathered at assembly plants, estimate productivity effects of 2mm technology. Use estimated productivity changes in the U.S. auto industry to estimate total impact on the U.S. economy, including output, prices, unemployment, and income.
  2. Use market share and vehicle characteristics to estimate value of improved quality on domestic share of total U.S. vehicle output, using an econometric model.

Currently Karen R. Polenske has 2 post-docs and 2 current students working on the project as well as three professors from other MIT departments.

For more information visit the project website at this page.