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Managing technology in the 1990s.

The renaissance that is taking place in the automotive and general engineering industries will have a profound impact on the way technology is managed in the foundry. The growing complexity of modern technology and its effective implementation demands a variety of interdisciplinary approaches as well as an integrated system of management.

One such approach is called management of technology (MOT) and includes the integration of business, human and technical factors in implementing new and advanced technologies to produce quality products in a timely and competitive fashion. The computerized information network will provide the overall link in tying the various facets of MOT together.

The time it takes to develop and introduce products to the market will continue to add pressure on the manufacturing process. The estimated average life cycle of products made in the 1960s was 10 years. This dropped to two years in the'80s and is projected to be six months by the year 2000. As manufacturers respond to this and other demands, they will expect the same from their suppliers, including foundries.

The perception of the casting designer and buyer about the casting as purchased will continue to undergo significant change with respect to casting attributes, including product value and development time.

In foundries, the product development time has to be reduced drastically, from 12-14 months to three to six months, with continuous interaction with the customer and market. Shorter product cycles and the ensuing need for continuous introduction of new products, strong global competition, changing political and business climate will force companies to operate in an uncertain and constantly changing technological environment to suit market conditions.

This rapidly changing scenario, along with the technology explosion experienced during the last several years, is bound to have a profound impact on technology and its management in foundries during the next decade, and underlines the need to effectively manage technology more than ever before.

Management of Technology

Technology may mean different things to different people, but the basic underlying principles can be adapted to various foundry situations with some adjustments and changes. The rational and integrated approach of MOT is universal. In simple terms, the driving force and prime objective of MOT is to attain the ability to offer quality castings with all the added value to the customer in the shortest time frame possible, at the most competitive price, while ensuring foundry profitability.

The basic objectives of MOT include:

* achieve technological and business


* enhance competitive position and

market share;

* improve operational and financial performance;

* operate on an effective 'S' curve to

avoid technological and product obsolescence.

MOT'S operational concept in a structured approach is outlined in Fig. 1. It shows that the early stages of technology development are dependent on technically competent scientists and engineers. MOT'S next stages will require the talents of people from engineering and management disciplines. The project's later stages will be handled by production personnel, and the final stage will return to the business management to assess, evaluate and channelize the results.

Technology Options

Management has various options when it comes to initiating and developing new technologies. These include:

* technology acquisition-outright purchase of an existing technology-, technology transfer gradual time-bound implementation; * in-house development-in-house R&D effort; * linkage with universities, R&D organizations, technology parks, as a one-time or continuous project.

Evaluating and selecting the best option is an important stage in MOT.

Each option has it advantages and disadvantages. In-depth analysis and a strong management effort are needed to determine the option or combination of options best suited to a foundry.

The first two options require an in-depth analysis of the compatibility of buyer and seller of technology, including the dynamics of the transfer. The last two options call for a commitment to in-house R&D to develop technology or to interact with research organizations. In any case, it is prudent to form a sound in-house R&D base and combine one or two options to assure long range technological independence.

Regardless of the project or options for developing and adopting technology, MOT'S success depends on giving equal consideration to the business, human and technical aspects.

Market Orientation

Competition remains the essence of the free market. But today the focus is shifting from a domestic or limited customer market to the global market where not only other foundries but other processes and materials will compete.

In a market-oriented approach, MOT will have a new focus that involves the integration of market intelligence, people, processes and the company's strategic plans. While cost reduction is often viewed as the sole justification for investing in new technology, this restricted approach often overlooks long-term objectives because superior quality castings will minimize the total cost.

Winners in the 1990s will be companies that act aggressively to correct weaknesses in process technology and adopt new developments. Technology has become a strategic tool for facing the competitive world in this decade.

With more foundries adopting modern methods, processes and quality concepts, competition will shift to the area of technology that will provide a competitive edge. This can result from adding value to the casting, development

t of improved materials and casting processes, solving environmental problems or aiding automation.

Altering a technology or switching business strategies should come only in response to a key market change. The timing of getting into and out of technology can be analyzed by using the's' curve approach illustrated in Fig. 2. Adopting an appropriate technology and the timing of its introduction are the critical factors in responding to changing markets.

Aggressive and successful firms get into new technologies when there is a demand for their existing product mix and when business sense clearly suggests that customer demand in the future will be for a different type of casting or for different types of materials altogether. Increasing demand for aluminum castings, composites and plastics by the automotive industry is a clear example of a changing market.

Human Factors

Increased competitive pressures are forcing companies to introduce new technology and systems which in turn affect people. The pace of technological change is often faster than organizational and behavioral changes. Effective management can remove obstacles by understanding this process. However, this important area is often ignored.

The human resource is an extremely powerful tool in MOT and plays a significant role in all stages of technology development. Structural changes in the organization, motivation and team spirit are crucial for the vitality and growth of the organization. Setting the right climate for creativity, commitment and support with skillful management of human resources will determine the success or failure of technology management. Changes in attitude-especially awareness to change-open channels of communication and good training will be the key factors in the 1990s to ensure smooth transition to new technology.

Management has the primary role in creating an awareness to technological change among the rank and file. The technology manager will be the key change agent. Perceptions of the need to change vary according to individuals, the group and the environment. The trigger-point in the change process occurs when change is identified and the individual learns of the need to change.

There will be a high level of resistance to change in the organization until the awareness stage is reached. MOT presupposes organization to provide reflectors that communicate the need for change in ways that gain maximum support and commitment to the change process. Management has to promote a high level of visibility by clearly identifying the "as-is" state before launching the change effort.

Change is a dynamic process, and clearvision of the change is an effective driving force. Once the awareness to change is accomplished and the change is brought about successfully, a stage of equilibrium is reached when the organization, the individual and the group are poised for a change. Continual change is a strategic objective of a competitive organization.


It has been reported that the traditional organization system with its hierarchal structure does not work well for the MOT. On the other hand, a framework system that depends on variable skills, symbolic behavioral styles and shared values is recommended. It has to be an informal organization system to cut across the barriers, bottlenecks, cliques and coalitions found in a formal system. A handpicked multi-disciplinary team learning, training and working together has achieved an effective blend of functional and project team approaches to steer technology projects successfully.

The organization's ability to accommodate continued technological changes and provide necessary leadership depends on a strong cadre of well-educated, up-to-date, technologically receptive and innovative engineers and professionals who can formulate, analyze and solve problems in the new technological areas. The key to success will lie on how quickly technically feasible ideas are turned into commercial realities.

Stressing team effort rather than optimizing individual achievements removes obstacles and creates better understanding and a more conducive climate for implementing new technology and structural changes. Using heterogeneous personnel of varying disciplines on the team will allow different views and alternatives to be considered. The individual also must be allowed to exercise his imagination and share his creative ideas.

The whole atmosphere should be one of collaboration and cooperation. People resist change, and in many cases the resistance encountered is not to the change" but to the "change process." The essential requirement of the new era is team effort and participation.

A successful foundry must combat obsolescence of its technical personnel and organization structure in a conscious and systematic way by keeping its technical professionals educated and trained on the latest developments in the field. This will help to promote a group of self-driven, self-motivated and technically vital employees. Failure to continue learning is deadly for technical professionals as they become less adaptable and more resistant to change.

Technical Factors

In the crucial stages of technology development and implementation, the technical factors of MOT embrace R&D and project planning. More than ever, the choice of appropriate technology and its timing will be the critical factors for survival and growth.

As illustrated in Fig. 3, MOT lays clear emphasis on project management, where each and every technology change is classified and steered as an individual project. The project life cycle is comprised of different phases which include assessment, planning, implementing and completion.

Assessment-assessment of the technology project will include: analysis and assessment of the problem or concern; setting goals and objectives; and evaluation of strengths and weaknesses relative to the technology selected.

Planning-this stage consists of preparing a detailed project plan, estimating resources, selecting equipment, materials, project site and personnel, scheduling, budgeting and a time frame, etc.

Implementation-execution of the project includes introduction, trials and testing, stabilization, commercialization, follow-up, and audit and assessment of results. This phase also includes course corrections, extending or compressing of the project sequence and time based on updated information.

Completion-the final stage includes putting the new technology into production, ensuring effective follow-up, disbanding of project team and reassigning them to new projects.


R&D support is essential in successfully managing technology. The main advantage of R&D conducted in-house is its proximity, providing close contact with the shop floor, and design and marketing activities. The R&D personnel also are company employees who are attuned to the culture and practices of the organization, making it more responsive to the organization's priorities and local conditions.

Where technology is developed in-house, there should be total involvement of R&D. Even in cases where the technology is bought from outside sources, the in-house R&D department should actively participate in the assimilation of the technology to suit the particular organization. Necessary technical and management committees with full representation from all appropriate departments must be committed to steer and monitor R&D projects to completion.

Computer Applications

Increasingly, it is being recognized that computer and management information systems can provide tremendous benefits to MOT in a complex, highly interdisciplinary environment such as a foundry. Computers have not only helped provide autonomy to individual process centers with dedicated PLC and process control systems, both off-line and in real-time, but also have helped provide an over all link between various foundry operations.

Computer applications in foundries span the entire gamut of operations. CAD/CAM systems have revolutionized visualization and simulation capabilities and have sped up prototype and product development. Microprocessor based process centers have integrated manufacturing and quality control areas by providing fast on-line control and information feedback.

Expert systems with artificial intelligence will be available for various operations, including simulation studies and scrap diagnosis. In effect, computer applications and information systems will dominate the metalcasting operations and provide the major impetus to develop and introduce technologies.

The 90s promise a quantum leap in developing new technologies in the foundry industry. As a result, it is imperative that management understand and implement concepts like MOT.
COPYRIGHT 1991 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Special Report: International Metalcasting trends
Author:Rao, T.S. Venkoba
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Previous Article:Solidification modeling of cast aluminum wheels.
Next Article:Quality and productivity remain key issues for foundries.

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