Policy Forum

Science and Product

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Science  27 May 1988:
Vol. 240, Issue 4856, pp. 1131-1204
DOI: 10.1126/science.240.4856.1131


Much of what needs to be changed in U.S. industry involves close ties to manufacturing, design for manufacturability, a rapid design cycle, and up-to-date technical knowledge on the part of the engineers themselves. Being up-to-date requires conscious company effort. Traveling to meetings, reading the technical literature, and being a part of the engineering community are necessities if we are to compete with others who make these efforts and are thus better able to incorporate technical change rapidly into their own products. Outside the product improvement cycle, a research (as opposed to development) organization in industry must have close ties to development and manufacturing in order to succeed. With these close ties, researchers can understand the progress of the cycle and can introduce new steps at the appropriate time and in an acceptable form. A research organization that surmounts the internal barriers and becomes an accepted contributor to the development and manufacturing process can, because of its greater technical depth, its scientific knowledge, and its close ties with the university world, become a forceful initiator of progress. It is more difficult, in our opinion, to make these contributions from a university base and from government laboratories as they are now constituted. Much has been said by industry and government leaders about reforming the educational system and strengthening the national science base—things that help build a strong foundation. A strong science base supplies a vast storehouse of new ideas, and a good educational system provides engineers and manufacturing workers with knowledge; but strength here cannot make up for inadequacies in the functioning of the development and manufacturing cycle. The United States must learn to succeed, not only in the ladder type of innovation in which a wholly new idea from science creates a wholly new product (the science-dominated process at which we have succeeded in the past), but also in the rapid, cyclical, engineer-dominated process of incremental product improvement. Neither process is a substitute for the other; we need both.