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From walk-in to drop-in—A new twist on outsourced R&D and what the prospective client expects to spend. Once these factors are known, the researcher gathers more specific details, including material requirements and the process envelope. This typically requires a nondisclosure agreement, which can take many weeks to negotiate details, such as wording, intellectual property rights, and rights to products developed during the course of the project. However, this time is useful for background research and mulling over how to approach the project. Once the nondisclosure agreement is signed, the researcher delves into specific requirements of the potential project. In most cases, a site visit is preferred to meet the staff and the manager who will oversee the project as well as to get a feel for what equipment and analytical resources are readily available (as opposed to tied up supporting production or other projects). It also can be helpful to meet with the plant manager and environmental health and safety manager. If the expected work plan includes chemical work, discussions about proper handling and storage of the materials as well as disposal considerations are needed as well. The researcher then puts together a proposed route, normally a multiphased approach, to solve the client's processing problem, develop an improved product, or create an entirely new material system. This includes a somewhat detailed outline—sometimes decribing daily or weekly activities—of what will be done in each phase and how many on-site and off-site hours are anticipated. The researcher also provides a list of equipment and required starting materials that are anticipated for the first phase of the project. The client then reviews these requirements and determines what the company has available and what it must buy. Lastly, the researcher provides a cost proposal to the prospective client for the above items for the first phase. After some discussion, the researcher and client typically agree on a modified work scope and cost. Once they negotiate and sign an appropriate contract, preparatory work begins. At this point, the contracted researcher: • Finds sources of raw materials and equipment and assists in getting quotes; • With prior payment from the client, arranges purchase and drop shipment of the agreed materials and equipment to the client's site; and • If needed, works with the environmental health and safety manager and provides an "Experimental procedure and safe operating plan" to make the client aware of planned chemical work. Once the timing for delivery of needed materials and equipment is established, the client arranges for the contractor to begin on-site work (badges, clearances, etc). Project case studies A synopsis of two outsourced research programs performed by the author follows to demonstrate how the researcherfor hire concept works. One developed a new low-cost ceramic-matrix precursor for prepregging fabric, and the other developed a high-temperature-capable resin. Each project had its own design specifications and performance requirements, highlighting the versatility of this researcher-for-hire approach. Case study 1: Preceramic polymer development The client wanted to develop a lowcost ceramic-forming resin that could be prepregged onto carbon-fiber and ceramic-fiber fabric for either compression molded or vacuum-molded components. The operating temperature requirements were relatively modest: 1,000°C–1,200°C in air. In this case, because of timing constraints, the contractor initially worked only with sets of operating envelopes for the equipment, a few photos of the research lab, and the client’s wish list for resin performance. The initial requirements included: • Resin must wet-out the fibers quickly, but be viscous enough to stay on the fabric; • Polymer must cure quickly during compression molding at 160°C–200°C to make a green part strong enough to be handled; • Coated fabric must be tacky enough to not slide during molding, but not so sticky that it cannot be handled (does not stick to nitrile gloves); • Prepreg shelf life should be greater than six months when refrigerated; • Pyrolysis yield after 2 h at 1,000°C–1,200°C in inert gas should be as high as possible to minimize needed reinfiltrations; • Ceramic material must be stable at operating temperatures around 1,000°C–1,200°C for more than 1,000 h; and • Polymer cost target is <$32/kg (~$15/lb). The client's research laboratory had all the utilities, furnaces, and test equipment required. The client had to purchase about $3,000 worth of glassware and mixing equipment. The agreed-upon Phase 1 scope of work involved a set of three trials: Trial 1: Three polymers based on existing formulations of low-cost (~$22/kg or $10/lb) preceramic polymers typically used for reinfiltration. Trial 2: Two polymers based on meltprocessable resins similar to those used as powder coating modifiers. Capsule summary R&D challenges R&D costs present a challenge to companies— in-house research programs often return little on their investments, yet outsourcing research can be prohibitively expensive. An alternative solution An alternative concept is that of “researcher-forhire,” in which companies contract an outside researcher to develop, conduct, and report on a well-defined exploratory or incremental research project. Does it work? WJS Concepts LLC recently has developed this contracted researcher approach and reports on two case studies that show how this approach can benefit contracted researchers and clients. 28 www.ceramics.org | American Ceramic Society Bulletin, Vol. 95, No. 3


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