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Constant improvement is key to compete.

Constant improvement is key to compete

The secret of America's future competitiveness does not lie in dazzling scientific and technological breakthroughs, but instead will be the result of step-by-step work that improves existing products and the way they are manufactured.

Mastering this "cyclic development process" is critical to our country's ability to compete, according to Ralph Gomory, president of the Sloan Foundation and former IBM senior VP for science and technology. Gomory recently spoke at a two-day Stanford University conference on "Economic Growth and the Commercialization of New Technologies," sponsored by the Technology and Economic Growth Program of Standford's Center for Economic Policy Research.

Scientific innovations have produced great new technologies, such as the invention of the transistor or the semiconductor. But our fascination with big breakthroughs also has produced a "mythology" about the enduring economic impact of these inventions, Gomory observed. "We are okay at getting things started - but not at winning the longer race."

The innovation process is dominated by the scientists building a product around a new idea. The cyclical process is dominated by the manufacturing engineers making incremental improvements to existing products. "It is in this area where we have significant problems today," Gomory said.

Whether a jet engine or a chip is being designed, the cycle includes a development and manufacturing phase. While the current product is in the manufacturing stage, a development team should be working on the next generation of the product.

"The length of the cycle itself is a very important parameter," Gomory told the audience. One company may take three years to produce the product; another company may have a two-year cycle. The company with the shorter cycle thus will begin its second-generation product before the first company gets its product out the door.

"The company with the shorter cycle can develop a tremendous advantage over its competitors. The short cycle also will give a company more ability to adjust to the market."

This means that there must be close ties between manufacturing and development. Manufacturing personnel should be involved early in the development process, and products must be designed that are easy to manufacture, to help speed the products to market. The cyclic development process is not the result of an outside push, but an inside pull. "The key pullers have to be internal people."
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Sloan Foundation president Ralph Gomory's speech at "Economic Growth and the Commercialization of New Technologies" conference
Publication:Tooling & Production
Article Type:column
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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