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8-1 CHAPTER 8 ASPECTS OF MATERIALS TECHNOLOGY ABROAD INTRODUCT ION On Making International Comparisons Until recently the United States regarded itself as the world leader in almost all phases of technology. This leadership was also recognized outside the U.S. as signified by the concern expressed by other countries in the 1960's over "The Technology Gap"; concern that the U.S. had perhaps achieved so commanding a lead in technology that it could not be overtaken. This lead was particularly marked in the high-technology, science-intensive areas such as aerospace, nuclear energy, defense technology, electronics and computers. Yet within a few short years, the U.S. has come to feel that its leader- ship has narrowed in most areas of technology, and has perhaps even reversed in some cases. While the U.S. position is still quite strong in aerospace, defense hardware and large computers, there is the suspicion that other countries have taken over the leadership in various other areas and particu- larly in sectors that until now have been regarded as low technologies. Prominent among these are several of the basic materials industries. The question naturally arises, how did these countries catch up or take over the leadership? Why does the U.S. lag behind other countries in certain industrial fields? Have other countries found a successful formula that the U.S. should emulate? There is no simple answer to these questions. Indeed, it is not even clear that they are the right ones to be asking. Trying to establish definitely whether, taking a reasonably long-term view, there are actual leads or lags between the U.S. and other advanced countries in various industrial sectors can prove an extremely frustrating exercise and one which often leads to inconclusive results. The whole subject is so enmeshed with widely disparate parameters such as geography, cultural heritages, living styles, political systems, national objectives, and natural resources, that hard, critical comparisons of the means adopted by different countries to enhance their technologies are extremely difficult to make. Nevertheless, it is obvious that some countries have had notable successes at advancing certain kinds of technology and it is therefore useful 1
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8-2 to consider whether this is because of deliberate national policies or priorities, or the establishment of particular institutional mechanisms. Naively one might approach this task by examining the policies and practices of other countries over the last 25 years, say, delineating what seems to have been the most successful elements and then judging whether these should be adopted by the U.S. But while this is a feasible approach, it has its dangers - the danger of assuming that the future will be a simple extension of the past. This cannot be so now. The rapidly-growing, world- wide concerns over population growth, food, oil, raw-material supplies, and pollution of the environment is leading to vast changes in perceived national priorities. Standards of living and trading patterns are changing rapidly. The ways in which wealth and economic resources are being redistributed among nations make it obvious that the conditions of the 70's, 80's and beyond cannot be simple extensions of the 50's and 60's. It is generally recognized nowadays that materials consumption cannot go on increasing exponentially, that it has to level off and perhaps even decline in the long run. The shape of the consumption curve is more sigmoidal (sometimes bell-shaped) than exponential, but different countries are at different points along their curves at any given instant. The industrially more mature countries are generally further along toward their plateaus than the developing nations and the upper limits will vary from country to country depending on geographical, resource, and social factors. It can be very misleading, therefore, to make direct comparisons between the state of a technology in one country versus that in another without taking into account the relative positions of these countries on their growth curves. The priorities and tactics adopted by a country during the early stages, character- ized by increasing growth rates, are likely to be very different from those of a country in the later stages which are characterized by decreasing growth rates. With these cautions in mind, we will endeavour to review some of the approaches taken by various countries to enhance technology, an aim that has been common to most industrially-advanced nations since World War II. Some major elements in determining technological prowess are: education; invest- ment and activity in research and development; investment in industrial scale-up; legislative, administrative and institutional measures; and public attitudes. While the principal focus in this chapter is on materials science and engineering, it is difficult to keep this focus in making international comparisons. Instead, the broad approaches taken by various countries towards enhancing technology will be reviewed with the expectation that these will often determine success or failure in enhancing the materials technology sector. Some Historical Perspectives With the advantages of hindsight, it is now well recognized world-wide that the O.S. emerged from World War II in an unusually, perhaps unnaturally, strong technological position and that, wisely or otherwise, some other countries felt they had to pattern their technological efforts after the U.S.
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8-3 model if they were to take advantage of the advancing frontiers of scientific and technical knowledge and achievement. The Ups. and, later, France mounted major efforts in much the same set of technological areas pursued by the U.S., including heavy commitments to defense technology. By putting extremely heavy emphasis on defense compared to the civilian sectors, the USSR succeeded in competing technologically, perhaps both in quantity and quality, with U.S. technical achievements in the defense sphere. Germany and Japan, relieved of the need to devote large efforts to the defense sector, were able to concentrate on rebuilding their basic industries and to develop civilian-oriented technologies. In these spheres they were able to establish themselves at least as competitors and often as leaders in the technologies they chose to emphasize. The smaller but technologically quite advanced countries of Western Europe recognized 'they could not compete with the larger countries in all areas of technology simultaneously and that they had to con- centrate carefully on areas in which they had some basic assets. Thus, by the mid-fifties we find: the U.S. and the USSR concentrating on the so-called "big science" sectors of defense, space, nuclear energy and, particularly in the U.S., electronic systems; the U.K. and France ' pursuing a mix of big and little science, struggling to keep up with the U.S. in the defense sphere; Germany and Japan focusing on a carefully-chosen set of civilian-oriented technologies; and the smaller industrial countries emphasizing technology in areas related to their individual basic resources, material and intellectual. It is perhaps not unreasonable to compare technical activities in the civilian sectors of the U.S. economy during this period with the "little science" activities of countries in Western Europe and in Japan. It could be, therefore, that the U.S. has, on the whole, more to learn from the approaches taken, not by the USSR, U.K., and France, but from the countries not so heavily involved in defense expenditures, such as West Germany, Japan, Netherlands, Switzerland and Scandinavia. Elements common to the technological approaches of many smaller countries include: a) a concentration on the more basic, low-technology, civilian-oriented industries; b) a high degree of cooperation between govern- ment, industry, and universities, c) a high degree of willingness on the part of the universities to undertake applied research; and d) recognition of the advantages of industrial size and economies of scale in order to compete with other countries. Time Factors in the Diffusion of Technology An invention occurring in a given country is usually (but not always) exploited in that country. At the same time, industries in other countries, if they are alert to such inventions, move to exploit them as well. Ex- ploitation, both in the originating country and the copying countries, takes time. The time varies considerably, depending on a complex mix of factors including: corporate technical alertness and capability, the climate for capital investment, consumer attitudes, and government actions. But in spite of the complexity, it has been found that the di ffusion patterns for tech- nology-in various countries display remarkably similar behavior, although with varying time spans, for highly diverse products, materials, and processes.
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8-4 Fisher and Pry have shown that data describing the substitution of a new product or process for an old one can generally be fitted extremely well by a sigmoidal curve of simple mathematical form. The model is based on three assumptions: a) In many instances, a technological advance can be considered as a competitive substitution of one method of satisfying a need for another. b) If a substitution has progressed as far as a few percent (capture of the market), it will proceed to completion. c) The fractional rate of substitution of new for old is proportional to the remaining amount of the old left to be substituted. From the above analysis, it can be concluded that the time required for the new product or service to grow and diffuse through technology and society has not shortened in any discernible way over the last 60 or 70 years. The substitution time does seem to vary from product to product depending on the breadth of impact of the product, the capital needed, social changes required, and marketing and distribution patterns, as well as product superiority or other technically-related factors, but not with the specific time-period of the substitution. Some results of the Fisher-Pry studies of particular interest to materials industries are given in Table 8.1. They emphasize the often considerable time-spans for substitutions to be fully implemented and hence the lack of credibility that must be attached to most of the subjective impressions of relative leads and lags by relatively uninformed individuals. The analyses of the substitutions of the basic oxygen furnace for open hearth in steelmaking in various countries are particularly pertinent. Quoting Pry: "Since Japan had relatively little (steel) capacity in 1960, but a real commitment to increase production, its (substitution) curve could be considered to be an experimental determination of the rate at which capacity could be installed in an advanced country; limited only by con- struction constraints and industry learning curves." "By using Japan as a base, one might say that the U.S. and West Germany, whose behavior was and is nearly identical, demonstrate the effect of the delay in technology diffusion caused by heavy investment in an existing technology and a slightly more conservative investment policy."' "Knowing very little about the underlying facts in the recent advances in the USSR steel industry, one can only speculate about the significant time delay in the USSR substitution. Could it be that a lack of first-hand knowledge of the technical operating characteristics of BOF plants delayed the substitution for five to ten years?" 2 In another study of the international diffusion of technology, Cooper has compiled the average imitation lags for various countries following important innovations (see Table 8.2). Differences between the response times appear relatively small for countries at comparable stages of development. 1 J. C, Fisher and R. H. Pry, Tech. Forecasting and Social Change, Vol. 3, 75-88, 2 1 9 7 1 e Richard N. Cooper,"Technology and U.S. Trade: An Historical Review;"Proc. Of Symposium under the auspices of the Natl. Acad. of Eng., Technology and International Trade, Washington, 1971.
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8-5 TABLE 8.1 Take-Over Times (if) and Substitution Mid-Points, T a SUBSTITUTION ATb T o OF BY (YEARS) L. PLASTICS Natural rubber Synthetic 58 1955 Natural fibers Synthetic 58 1969 Natural leather Synthetic 57 1957 Hardwood residence floors Plastic 25 1966 Various boat hulls Plastic 20 1966 Natural tire fibers Synthetic 17.5 1948 Metal car bodies Plastic 16 1981 II. STEEL PROCESSES Bessemer Open hearth 42 1907 Open hearth Electric arc 47 1947 Open hearth Basic oxygen furnace a) Japan 9 1963 b) Germany 12 1969 c) USA 12 1969 d) USSR 14 1975 a R. H. Pry, General Electric Corporation, Corporate Research and Development, Schenectady, New York, Report No. 73CRD220, July 1973. bit is the time between 19% and 90% take-over
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