IMPACTS OF THE COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS

There is no doubt that many of the collaborative activities in both countries have been a success, and their impact on the field has been considerable. At the risk of slighting the other projects, we mention in particular HTSSE and ATP (for its packaging activities) in the United States and the Josephson Computer and Superconducting Sensor Lab projects in Japan. These four made a quantum change in the level of SCE technology in each country. Given its success in previous projects, it is not surprising that Japan expects to continue such activities. What is surprising is that the United States, which has been just as successful, has no plans at present to continue with any new collaborations or consortia. By examining the styles and impacts of the projects, perhaps some general conclusions can be reached.

The major advantage of any type of formal collaborative activity or project is that it provides stable and (relatively) long-term funding to the participants. This allows aggressive goals to be defined, and even modified during the project, without having to "succeed" each year in order to obtain the next year's funds.

Table 8.4 summarizes some of the other strengths and weaknesses of the three types of activity. The WTEC panel has concluded that remarkable and perhaps surprising progress can be made in collaborative projects when it is possible to define system-level goals. It would appear that such system goals might be most readily achieved in a centralized activity, such as SSL, where one team can interact closely together on a daily basis. But this is not exclusively the case if strong coordination is provided, as HTSSE demonstrated.

If the objective is to develop the more generic materials, film, and device level technologies, distributed activities, with small teams of researchers working in their own laboratories and having the freedom to be inventive, have been productive. Examples are the Josephson Computer Project in Japan and the URI and "Big 3" projects in the United States.

Table 8.4
Strengths and Weaknesses of Different Program Styles

Style

Strengths

Weaknesses

 

 

 

 

CENTRALIZED

  • High level of stable funding
  • Excellent synthesis and characterization equipment
  • Sufficient workforce to try a variety of approaches
  • With right leader, can move very quickly
  • Ideal structure for system-level projects, e.g., SSL
  • Industry participants receive informal education in the field
  • Industry loses its good people to the Center, or sends its second tier
  • Centers do not formally educate staff in an unfamiliar field
  • Can become isolated from industry needs
  • Friction can develop with industry
  • Large teams suppress independence
  • Transfer of technology requires 2 steps
  • Can weaken support for R&D in home industry
  •  

    JOINT VENTURE

    • Funding is stable for a specified period
    • Objectives can be well defined
    • System-level goals can be achieved, with coordinated leadership
    • Facilities are quickly available
  • Projects tend to become insular and "vertically integrated"
  • Roles are not necessarily well matched to company strengths
  •  

     

    DISTRIBUTED

    • Funding is stable for a specified period
    • Industry assigns best people to work in their own laboratories
    • Technology transfer route is clear - at least for the advances made in the "home" lab
  • Unproductive directions can be pursued for too long
  • It is difficult to achieve system-level objectives in small, independent groups
  • One function of the centralized activities in Japan, which has not been realized in the United States (because there has not been such an activity), is the education in superconductivity and cryogenics received by all the participants from industry, and by the students and postdocs in the case of ISTEC. While this educational process is not formal (the panel heard some recommendations that a formal series of classes and structured lectures would be valuable), it is an effective way of distributing knowledge of the technology more broadly into industry. While many of the participants in ISTEC/SRL and SSL returned to their own companies to work in other technical fields, they took with them a perspective that is often lacking in U.S. industry. For example, they are presumably no longer afraid of cryogenic liquids or refrigerators!

    An interesting comparison can be made between AMTEL and some of the small venture companies of the United States. It is likely that one advantage of Japan's AMTEL joint venture is that both the objectives and the term of the collaborative activity have been strictly defined. At the end of 6 years, this "small research company" will disband, and the technology will be available to the partner companies and to others. This is in contrast to the small U.S. companies, which are trying to make, not with great success, the difficult transition from a research emphasis to a market focus. Their difficulty has been that research staff cannot readily become a manufacturing team, and the companies cannot afford to add complete engineering and manufacturing teams. This difficulty simply will not arise at AMTEL.


    Published: July 1998; WTEC Hyper-Librarian