From walk-in to drop in—A new twist on outsourced R&D

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From walk-in to drop-in— A new twist on outsourced R&D By Walter Sherwood An experimental concept can allow companies without in-house research programs to outsource R&D while minimizing overhead and risks. Some large conglomerates, such as General Electric and United Technologies, have captive research labs. However, such facilities tend to return little on their investments. Because of the high cost of maintaining such research facilities, even some larger companies, such as Dow Corning, have cut in-house research budgets. Without in-house research programs, these companies must outsource exploratory or incremental improvement research, which can be prohibitively expensive. As an alternative, WJS Concepts LLC has developed an experimental concept during the past year—"researchers-forhire" that perform research and proof-of-concept development, without massive overhead. Unlike traditional engineering consultants, the contracted researcher actually performs the work and writes reports. When research is successful, the contractor then assists scale-up or implementation on the production line and trains in-house staff. Because the work is defined in phases, the contract rigorously defines the scope of work and cost for each phase. This definition allows the client to review results after each phase and decide whether to terminate the project or proceed. The result is that the client saves money and dramatically lowers the risk of testing new ideas, because • The company gets an experienced resource wholly dedicated to the project for a defined time and cost; • The company minimizes benefit costs (training, taxes, vacation, etc.), because it does not hire the contractor; • The company uses its own laboratories or analytical facilities; • There is little or no risk of losing control of intellectual property; • There is greater communication with management and research staff, because the contractor is on-site, program goals can be modified easily, and issues can be resolved in minutes instead of days; and • After the research is complete, the company’s facility can revert to normal. The process: Getting started How does this researcher-for-hire concept work? Although the initial engagement process with a client constantly evolves, a typical procedure is as follows. Once initial contact with an interested client is made, the contracting researcher gets an idea of the general scope of work and the company’s available research facilities and resources. The researcher also attempts to determine timing American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Vol. 95, No. 3 | www.ceramics.org 27


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