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4 Priorities "Forward, the Light Brigade!" Was there a man dismayed ? Not though the soldiers knew Someone had blundered: Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die: Into the Valley of Death Rode the six hundred. From "The Charge of the Light Brigade" Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) THE PURPOSE OF THIS CHAPTER iS to highlight the committee s most important findings and recommendations. The fundamental focus of this report is the importance of materials advances in the development of marketable products. The committee found that, although in some cases the introduction of a new material has revolutionized an industry (e.g., silicon chips for the electronics industry, optical fibers for the telecommunications industry, and titanium for the aerospace and aircraft industries), the vast majority of materials advances have been evolutionary. In either case, it has taken from 10 to 20 years for typical material advances to be widely used. As a result of these long development times, patent protections often expire before the material/process innovators realize significant revenues or even recoup their original investments. This has discour- aged the development of innovative materials. An idealized commercialization process and the many linkages necessary for materials and processing advances to make the transition from the laboratory to the marketplace were discussed in Chapters 2 and 3 of this report. Chapter 2 introduced a conceptual schema for the analysis of the materials development and commercialization process, which includes the following notional phases: 69
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70 MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING · Phase 0. knowledge-base research · Phase 1. material concept development · Phase 2. material/process development · Phase 3. transition to production · Phase 4. product integration Phase 2 is typically the most difficult phase of the development cycle to navigate successfully. The primary objective of Phase 2 R&D is to scale-up production from the laboratory to the prototype level so that the business risks involved in the application of a material/process innovation can be quantified. Phase 2 ends when the innovation has been shown to have both the potential for being scaled up to production level and economic advantages and when an indus- trial enterprise decides to investigate integrating the technology into a product. In many cases, Phase 2 represents the transition from "technology push" (i.e., re- search priorities are established by the MS&E community based on technological attractiveness and perceived applicability) to "product pull" (i.e., industry needs and priorities are the primary criteria for further development). Some have de- scribed Phase 2 as "the valley of death." Recent experience has left the user community as well as the R&D commu- nity frustrated. Many in the user community are of the opinion that materials R&D has been misguided and preoccupied with exotic but impractical technolo- gies. Many in the MS&E community feel that the fruits of their research have not been adopted and that the user community is overly conservative. At the root of these feelings are technologies that have not made the transition from technology push to product pull. The importance of Phase 2 R&D and the substantial differences between Phase 2 and traditional Phase 0 and Phase 1 research are gaining recognition with funding agencies, universities, government laboratories, and industry. Over- coming the barriers to Phase 2 R&D is the most promising way to shorten the time to market of laboratory innovations. The committee identified the following principal barriers to the smooth pas- sage through Phase 2 R&D: · high development costs · high technical and business risks · inadequate communications and education Any successful innovation must be a cost-effective solution to a real prob- lem. Therefore, the MS&E community must have a good understanding and appreciation of costs in the materials selection process. Focus on technological innovation without regard to cost is unlikely to lead to success. Historically, funding for Phase 2 research has been inconsistent. Although the highest costs of new materials have been associated with process definition and testing, funding
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PRIORITIES 71 often stops before these stages have been reached. The funding gap may result from uncertainty among the MS&E community, industry, federal and state fund- ing agencies, and entrepreneurs over who is responsible for the identification and funding of Phase 2 R&D programs. Because of the high cost of testing new materials, many materials advances have never been exploited. The use of modeling and simulations to provide preliminary assessments of materials and component performance could help alleviate this problem. However, extensive databases and knowledge-base sys- tems will be essential to effective modeling and simulation. Economic pressures compel manufacturing enterprises to evaluate the techni- cal and business risks associated with every new technology. As a consequence, mature industries are more likely to fund incremental R&D, for which the risks are better understood. Revolutionary changes are most likely to come from entrepre- neurs who are willing to accept higher risks in search of high returns. Different industries perceive risks differently. In the electronics industry, for example, risks are predominately associated with commercial considerations. In the automotive industry, risk may be associated with product safety or the potential for huge recalls. In the jet-engine industry, safety is paramount, and no company will intro- duce a new material or process unless it has been proven to have a positive or, at worst, a neutral effect on safety. The cost of running long-term, expensive tests to verify product reliability is a major barrier to innovation. Risk assessments and evaluations of all performance criteria can cost tens of millions of dollars, and these costs are major impediments to the introduction of new materials. In the opinion of the committee, universities are producing MS&E graduates who are technically well educated, but whose focuses are too narrow for the current business climate. Educators should ensure that MS&E researchers and graduates can communicate effectively with producers and designers so that their ideas can be successfully brought to market. Researchers and engineers must understand that producers are looking for simple, robust processes, continuity of demand, and the potential for profit; designers think in terms of life-cycle cost, risk management, and consistent and reliable suppliers. One way to improve the preparation of MS&E researchers and graduates is to involve research universities, in partnership with industrial researchers, in Phase 2 R&D. However, this has been difficult for the following reasons: · the multidisciplinary nature of Phase 2 R&D and the wide spectrum of expertise required to complete material/process developments · the lack of access to industrial-scale equipment · the evaluation of academic researchers based on refereed publications and invention disclosures · the incompatibility between industry funding and planning cycles and the time frames required for graduate students
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72 MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING Recommendation 4-1. The MS&E and user communities should focus their efforts on strengthening linkages to bridge the Phase 2 "valley of death" of technology development. Although there are major differences between industries, some general ap- proaches can be taken to improve Phase 2 R&D. The key to bridging the valley of death is to establish an environment in which innovations are desired and antici- pated by those who will use them and business considerations are addressed early in the development process by the MS&E researchers. Focusing on the following areas will improve the chances that materials and processing innovations will be successfully commercialized: · improving Phase 1 linkages (setting the stage for product pull) · establishing the potential of an industry for Phase 3 and Phase 4 R&D (getting down to business) SETTING THE STAGE FOR "PRODUCT PULL" Even though some innovations have succeeded without a clearly defined need, the committee found that commercialization is much more likely to succeed if product needs drive the innovation. Phase 1 researchers must become more aware of user needs and consider them in designing their research programs, thus estab- lishing a "product pull" (i.e., setting research priorities based on product needs). Consortia Many industrial research laboratories have decreased their support for Phase 0 and Phase 1 MS&E research, directing more of their activities toward meeting short-term needs. Although this change in focus could shorten the time for prod- uct implementation and lead to evolutionary product improvements, it provides no incentive for revolutionary innovations. To compensate for this lack of incen- tive, industry has turned to academic researchers and consortia to pool research resources and share results. Consortia, with or without government participation, provide a mechanism for sharing the risks and costs of developing new processes and materials. Consortia provide neutral ground where competing industries can meet to identify, develop, and maintain the research initiatives most important to their competitiveness. Consortia can also serve as links among industries and research institutions to ensure that short-term and long-term research initiatives are effective and efficient. Industry Road Maps Industry road maps are the primary mechanisms for establishing research goals and priorities for materials research early in the development process. Road maps
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PRIORITIES 73 have been very effective for the development of advanced technologies in newer industries, such as electronics, and are especially important for the development of complex products. The road map development process facilitates linkages between experts across institutional and disciplinary boundaries. Road maps are valuable for the MS&E community because they can (1) identify issues facing industries and gaps in technology; (2) be used as communication tools to allow all segments of an industry to contribute to the industry's development; (3) act as organizational mechanisms for bringing all segments of an industry into the development process; (4) serve as integrative structures through which all segments of an industry can reach consensus on goals and research directions; and (5) provide funding agencies with the information necessary to manage their R&D budgets. Centers of Excellence The center of excellence is a new model for university research that is rap- idly gaining acceptance. Centers of excellence, in sharp contrast with the more traditional model of university research, have a clear research focus, involve collaboration by several faculty members often from different disciplines, pro- vide shared facilities, and have proactive industrial outreach programs. An effec- tive center of excellence (1) creates a critical mass for the rapid exchange of information; (2) identifies industry segments interested in specific research projects; and (3) provides investigators with greater access to the increasingly expensive and sophisticated equipment required for materials research. A center of excellence provides industry with a single location from which to anticipate relevant research results and a pool of recruitable students with immediately applicable skills and experience working in teams. Centers are also better able to respond to multidisciplinary federal research initiatives that require industrial outreach. Recommendation 4-2. The following three primary mechanisms should be given priority to establish product pull in the early stages of technology development (during Phase 1 and, perhaps, as early as Phase 0~: · consortia and funding mechanisms to support "precompetitive" research (Recommendation 3-5) · industry road maps to set priorities for materials research (Recommenda- tion 3-18) · university centers of excellence to coordinate multidisciplinary research and facilitate industry-university interactions (Recommendation 3-14) GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS The successful commercialization of materials and process advances is gen- erally driven by one of four end-user forces: (1) cost reduction; (2) cost-effective
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74 MATERIALS SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING improvement in quality or performance; (3) societal concerns, manifested either through government regulation or self-imposed changes to avoid government regulation; or (4) crises. Without at least one of these drivers, industries that use materials have little motivation to implement technological advances. However, the importance of these driving forces varies greatly with the industry and the situation. Mature industries generally do not have rapidly growing markets and are primarily competing for market share. For these industries, reductions in cost and incremental advantages in perceived or actual performance may represent success (e.g., automobiles). In contrast, technological advances can create large new markets or substantially increase existing markets for newer, rapidly changing industries (e.g., computing). Even when compelling driving forces for change are present, the techno- logical and business risks may be obstacles to commercialization. Product/Property Data In the past, primary materials suppliers were only involved peripherally in the design process. As the competition for primary materials has intensified, however, they have become increasingly involved in developing their own design activities. This is especially true for new materials concepts, for which the sup- plier infrastructure might not be able to meet the needs of industry or for which prospective suppliers may have underestimated the challenges of scaling up an unproven technology. Materials suppliers must collaborate with end-user indus- tries to determine the type of data required for product designers to assess a new material/process and to present the material properties in terms that are relevant and understandable to designers. The committee believes that the precompetitive, cooperative development of product and property data will improve the useful- ness of results to product designers. The sharing of basic materials property data might require a review of antitrust legislation and a neutral body (such as the National Institute for Standards and Technology or the American Society for Testing and Materials) as a clearinghouse. Tests and methods should be standard- ized as much as possible to minimize duplication. Research Infrastructure Factors that limit the materials and parts supplier industries as a source of innovation include (1) initial market sizes and profit margins too small to produce adequate return on investment, (2) unwillingness of OEMs to adopt technologies invented by others, and (3) the difficulty in implementing changes to existing supply chains and infrastructure. The research infrastructure for materials and parts supply companies could be improved by the development of mechanisms for larger OEMs to assist and encourage materials supply companies to conduct R&D (e.g., guarantees to use the new technology); government programs, such as ATP, that would help defray some of the costs of industrial R&D; and modifica- tions to the tax code that would permit deductions for R&D expenditures and reduce the risk to the supplier companies.
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PRIORITIES 75 Patent Protection If the time required to certify a new material/process approaches the limits of the patent-protection period, a company may not have time to recoup its R&D investment before its competitors can legally use the technology. Because of this, industry tends to be biased toward technologies that can be implemented quickly and leaves more time to accrue profits and recoup R&D investments. Industrial Ecology The MS&E community and product designers are increasingly turning to the developing field of industrial ecology to assess the social, economic, and envi- ronmental context within which materials and products are designed, produced, used, and managed at the end of their life cycles. This systems-based view of the material includes (1) acquisition; (2) formulation, processing, and manufactur- ing; (3) distribution as a material or component of a product; (4) use; (5) recy- cling as part of a refurbished product, assembly, subassembly, component, or material; and (6) eventual disposal or management of the product as waste. Regulatory Climate To comply with environmental regulations, industry may have to (1) modify or replace an existing manufacturing process or production facility to reduce harmful emissions or (2) modify or augment a product design to improve safety or reduce harmful emissions. These changes do not generally give any particular company a competitive advantage because they all must comply. In fact, regula- tions can spur innovations by helping companies bypass the cost barriers for the introduction of new materials/processes and encouraging companies to conduct cooperative, precompetitive research. Recommendation 4-3. The following developments should be given priority to improve the transition of materials advances from Phase 2 to production imple- mentation: · collaboration with end-user industries to identify the type of data required for product designers to assess new materiaVprocesses (Recommendation 3-1) · investigation of methods to improve the research infrastructure for mate- rials suppliers and parts suppliers (Recommendations 3-2 and 3-3) · extension of the patent protection period, especially for applications that require lengthy certification periods (Recommendation 3-4) · development of industrial ecology as an integral part of the education and expertise of both MS&E researchers and product designers (Rec- ommendation 3-6) · development of a regulatory climate based on constructive cooperation and goal setting to promote the adoption of new materials that achieve or enhance societal goals (Recommendation 3-16)
Representative terms from entire chapter: