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A82 - Goldense On R&D-Product Development - Innovation Is Changing Pre-Product Development R&D

Machine Design, Penton Publishing, Cleveland, Ohio, USA
September 5, 2013

Description: Until recently, the past decade or so, most companies in most industries exclusively practiced product development. Exploratory activities that preceded product development were considered to be too risky, to take too long, and to have too low of a return on investment when compared to listening to a customer(s) needs and then "quickly" developing a product that would have a known market when it was launched. There were many driving forces towards that end. The "customer satisfaction" and "total quality management" movements of the 1980s, followed by the "voice of the customer" and "product definition - requirements management" and "time-to-market" focus of the 1990s, had placed great emphasis on delivering as fast as possible to what was explicitly asked for. Only a few industries, such as pharmaceutical, biotech, chemical, semiconductor, and a few others, have routinely and necessarily focused on markets that are underserved instead of customers that are underserved. These industries operate on the philosophy of "build it and they will come. As such, they have invested in the pre-product development activities of "Basic Research," "Applied Research," and "Advanced Development" to a much larger extent.

Market-leading companies, that historically had minimal pre-product development activities, began increasing their investment and the formalization of their advanced processes following the tech boom. Now, a decade later, it is beginning to permeate just about all industries. Advanced Development is the current rage.

What is Advanced Development [AD]? Well there are several opinions on the definition. Some companies staff it to turn out finished product designs that go right into manufacturing. Some companies use it to wrestle down hard to achieve features and/or reduce unfamiliar or unpredictable technologies to the level needed for commercialization, and also throw stretch products in that will be brought directly to the marketplace. No one knows the best definition yet. If systematic "new-to-X" innovation is the goal, then Advanced Development should not be a convenient place to turnkey products from soup to nuts. We already have daily discussions on whether design engineering is overloaded with sustaining engineering reducing the capacity for new products or vice versa. Why then would one push this upstream even further where stretch bets are to be taken. It won't be long before management decides to do less challenging soup-to-nuts projects and an occasional sustaining engineering turnkey while making short term trade-off decisions during busy times. The skill sets of AD engineers are necessarily deeper than it is broader if new-to-X is to be achieved. Competitive advantage engineering is rarely achived by generalists. Commercializable products are rarely achieved by specialists.

Recognizing that AD engineers will necessarily have consultative SME-type roles, the goal of AD resources should be to "release commercialization-ready enabling capabilities, technologies, features, and functions to the portfolio management and product development communities." Necessarily, some AD "outputs" will trace back to customer and market requests and some will be to build it and they will come. As best practices sort themselves out in the years ahead, AD is sure to be a quite exciting place for its resident engineering and technical professionals.

This article is an ongoing column in Penton Publishing's Machine Design magazine entitled "Goldense On R&D-Product Development."

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