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Innovation Considerations

The first annual Innovation Research Network conference was recently hosted by five New York universities, and although key speakers weren't from auto, their messages should certainly be of interest to people in that industry.

The first annual Innovation Research Network conference was recently hosted by five New York universities, and although key speakers weren't from auto, their messages should certainly be of interest to people in that industry. The morning keynote was delivered by Paul Loda, director of product development at Bausch & Lomb. Paul had several excellent summaries of current challenges in new product development that are the raw material for meaningful applied research consideration. Here is what he suggested:

1. Most companies have yet to fully exploit the potential advantages that geographic dispersion would afford in the new product development process. Most issues are external rather than internal to the project management site. Virtual new product development tools—like web-enabled CAD systems—help, but they are not the total answer to this challenge.

2. Most companies continue to be resource constrained and the picture rarely gets better. How can a company improve delivery of successful new products in an era of constrained resources?

3. Research activity, which eventually impacts new products, is driven from the boardroom of any company. How does the composition of boards of directors impact research excellence?

4. What is the appropriate role of a new product steering team for assisting in the guiding and validation of research output?

5. How do we apply performance criteria to research before the research is completed (or even started)?

6. How many companies are satisfied with their rewards and recognition system for research and new product development? How would you feel if an idea you contributed launched a $1-billion business and you got a $2,500 bonus check for the effort?

7. Is it really possible to change the corporate research policy of a large, relatively successful company? What is the best way to do this?

To round out our keynote presentations, and include the science and technology policy perspective in our conference deliberations, Dr. Maryellen Kelly was our afternoon keynote speaker. Dr. Kelly has just completed a policy study of the award winners and losers of the Advanced Technology Program (NIST).1

The key findings of this study were:

1. ATP award winners are much more likely to share research findings with other groups and are embedded in a network of linkages with other firms.

2. Award winners are much more likely to open pathways to innovation.

3. Companies that win the ATP awards have much greater success in attracting additional funding for their projects from other sources (the "Halo effect").

4. Since much of new applied research is risky, and any single firm is unlikely to have all the technical resources needed to take-on such risk, the promotion of information sharing is critical to the social impact of such funding.

5. Award winners are much more likely to pursue projects that are new to the firm, are more open in technical communication, and are more likely to collaborate with other companies.

6. Surprisingly, award-winning firms did not necessarily have a history of successful ATP awards—they were not "wired" into the process.

7. The study showed that if the ATP award was not made to a firm, it was highly unlikely to fund the project from internal or other sources—the initiative usually dies. Most (63%) of companies in the non-winners group did not proceed with any aspect of the R&D project proposed to the ATP.

1 The report which is NISTIR 6577 is titled "Winning an Award from the Advanced Technology Program: Pursuing R&D Strategies in the Public Interest and Benefiting from a Halo Effect", March 2001, by Maryann P. Feldman and Maryellen R. Kelly, U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Assistance Office, Advanced Technology Program, National Institute of Standards and Technology, Gaithersburg, MD 20899. http://www.atp.nist.gov, or by email, atp@nist.gov, or by phone, 1-800-ATP-FUND (237-3863), or by mail, ATP, NIST, 100 Bureau Drive, Stop 4701, Gaithersburg, MD 20899-4701.

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