Century of Endeavour

'In Search of Techne'

Chapter 3.3: The Innovation Process

(c) Roy Johnston 1999

(comments to rjtechne@iol.ie)

May 13 1970

The Irish Management Institute until recently has confined its attention to questions relating to industrial productive systems where all the elements are known. The management of research, development and innovation is an altogether more difficult field.....

They are to be commended therefore for producing a course by Raymond I Reul, of the FMC Corporation, USA, on the evaluation and control of R and D projects.

Mr Reul speaks with authority and experience, and the Corporation in which he works has a record of expansion from a backyard workshop making agricultural sprayers in the twenties up to a complex, vertically integrated industrial system producing a multitude of chemical and engineering products, with an annual turnover comparable to the GNP of the Irish economy. If profitability, expansion and diversification are measures of success, then Mr Reul should be listened to with respectful attention.

The techniques developed in FMC not only give yardsticks for evaluating alternative projects, but also show how and when to stop a project that has gone sour. Some projects are such that even if they 'succeed' they are failures; although they work and produce a profit if the early false starts are written off, they never recover their development costs if the latter are counted in full. Mr Reul's technique involves a measure which enables this situation to be detected in advance, and an overall strategy developed. The probability of at least breaking even is 99% with the whole portfolio of projects, although the probability of success of any individual project may be much lower.

The key to this measurement technique is a mathematical expression called the Measured Survival Function (MSF). It relates the cost of the project to date, an estimate of the proceeds if successful, and the probability of individual success as currently seen. There are a whole set of such functions, depending on what the overall research strategy is: one could be ultra-conservative and demand 99.9% probability of at least breaking even over all projects, or be a gambler and accept 90% or 85%.

A project can start with a low probability of individual success and yet have a high MSF rating because the cost is low. As money is spent, the probability of success comes up, but it must come up at a rate fast enough to offset the cumulative cost. The life of a project can be followed in this way with some precision, and ultimate failure, despite apparent promise, detected by the down-turning of the MSF curve before large sums have been committed.

This is an impressive analytical technique and deserves serious study by those concerned with science policy at national level(1). It is a pity that the people so concerned were not present. This must be because the National Science Council has not yet fully understood that the management of resources is iself in the process of becoming a scientific discipline, that people like Ray Reul have something important to say, and that the IMI is fulfilling an important role in giving them a platform.

It might be said that the application of scientific research to the survival of the FMC Corporation is irrelevant to the type of research in the Universities with which the NSC is primarily concerned, and that the latter is justified for cultural, aesthetic, educational and various reasons other than profitability. I do not agree.

Let me pose the question in this way.... basic scientific research, which is not project-orientated, appears at first sight not to be adaptable to Reul techniques. Can it perhaps be looked at from a different angle, so that Reul techniques can after all be applied?

I suggest that it can, provided that the system is regarded as a producer of people trained in the methods of science, rather than as a producer of new discoveries. The latter are by-products of the former.

Thus the 'projects' of the university science system are the research departments of the various scientific disciplines. Only a fraction of those who pass through the system remain as basic research people, with contacts and acceptance on the world network.. These form a creative focus keeping research alive. They are the catalysts of the process that transform the raw material into the finished product, which is, or ought to be, people who know what to do if there is no answer in the book.

The success of such a project is measured on the market: do the people who come out get jobs in Ireland? The 'project' therefore needs a market research element, and a sales department; a demand must sometimes be created for a product if the public does not know about it..

It is here that the question of social responsibility comes in. National science policy, and indeed university research programmes, ought to be able to distinguish between .....market whims and fashions, on the one hand, and objective national needs on the other. But I submit that the Reul techniques are valid for basic research if the goal of the system is as I defined it...... The only constraint is that the 'product' should be able to adapt and generalise 'its' research experience in such a way as to be a creative asset in our national economic life.

July 9 1970

People who have been directly concerned with the innovation process know that between the demonstration of a principle and the economic operation of a productive unit lies a veritable Pilgrim's Progress of obstacles. The main weakness in Ireland is that obstacles tend to be overcome by the methods of craft technology (basically common-sense and experience); the discipline of the scientific method tends ot remain in the world of 'principle-demonstration' within the cosy, well-controlled laboratory environment.

Inhabiting creditably this twilight-region of craft-technology are the Kilkenny Design Workshops (KDW), in the stables of the castle....

Under the direction of WH Walsh KDW has developed a service whereby prototypes are developed suitable for existing productive processes; these they licence out to industry in return for a royalty on production..

Technologies in which KDW is at present interested include textiles, ceramics, furniture and woodwork, metalwork, fibreglass and plastics.

Of these to date the greatest acceptance in industry has been achieved by the Textile Workshop, under Mortimer O'Shea. At the November 1969 exhibition of Kilkenny work there were 62 designs of which 42 had been bought by named firms. Sone of the designs have had a dramatic effect in rescuing small firms from bankruptcy, by enabling them to switch from products forr which the market is declining (eg low-grade blankets) to others for which an increasingly educated and sophisticated market is developing (eg woollen bedspreads in dramatic colours).

I have previously mentioned(2) the development of an interest in flax-growing by Bunclody Co-op, arising out of the work of Dr Michael Neenan in the Crop Research Centre of the Agricultural Institute at Oakpark, Carlow. The Kilkenny Textile Workshop played a significant part in the development of this as an acceptable input to the Kirkpatrick linen mill in Antrim.

Scientific technology, as represented by the Institute of Industrial Research and Standards at Ballymun, seems to have concentrated its efforts on large-scale production-processes, leaving the small firm as the market for the type of approach practiced by KDW. There is a temptation to regard KDW as a sort of 'poor man's IIRS'; this is reinforced in Kilkenny by a sort of craftsman's disdain for scientific technology: 'no wonder its expensive, they have PhDs doing the dying!....' The picture however is more complicated; the IIRS tends to produce scientific technology for large firms producing low-cost goods for the mass-market, while KDW provides art-based design with craft technology, plus enough science to get by, for small firms producing quality goods. The shade of William Morris would be at home in KDW, whereas in the IIRS he would not be recognised.

There is, however, a trend for KDW designs to become increasingly accepted for quantity production. It is inevitable that they will run into problems for the solution of which a scientific approach to technology will be necessary. In other words, IIRS and KDW will need each other increasingly, and means will need to be found to enable them to draw on each other's experience.

This could happen by the expedient of arranging for the IIRS and KDW people to.....work out jointly a process that would give a product both aesthetically pleasing and technologically satisfactory......

There is to be found in KDW a healthy understanding at craft level of certain problems which in applied science are usually brushed on one side. Scientists who look down on craftsmen's lore with a sense of superiority do so at their peril.......

August 12 1970

The Minister for Industry and Commerce has launched a scheme for an annual award for scientific and technological innovation. This consists of a symbol and the right to display it on stationary, products, packaging, publicity material etc; there is also a trophy for display on the premises.

The award is restricted in the case of state-sponsored bodies to one only per annum in the entire sector, while for the private sector there are several.. The intention of this, presumably, is to suggest to the latter that 'innovation is a good thing'. Thus there is a bias against the recognition of innovation in the public sector where this occurs. (I am thinking of the Bord na Mona milled and sod peat systems, which in their way are world-leaders and were innovatory in their time...)

There is a further restriction, in that it only applies to firms which have been in commercial operation for at least five years. Thus the entrepreneur who starts a firm to exploit an innovation (there are such people, even in Ireland) will be discriminated against.

It is a pity that these schemes are not the subject of wider consultation before their introduction....

November 4 1970

.....Bord na Mona has an inportant long-term interest in....cutaway bog.....the amount available......may start to increase rapidly....if the various novel uses for peat start to demand large volumes.

One such use....is the production of activated charcoal, for use in various purification systems. The battle against pollution now being fashionable (at least verbally), we may expect the demand for activated charcoal to increase. There are other sources for this product, some of them by-products of the food-industry. Professor D C Pepper, in his inaugural address to the Institute of Chemistry on October 21, mentioned an enterprising gentleman in the USA who collected old sump oil from garages and chicken guts from poultry producers; with these ingredients he apparently succeeded in making marketable activated charcoal.....

Peat is a more promising raw material for many proceses than is usually realised.. The Tula metallurgists in the USSR have successfully replaced coke by peat for steel smelting, claiming a higher standard of purity.

The idea of using peat for smelting goes back to the 20s, when the USSR was under seige conditions. It failed due to the inability to get a robust enough briquette. In the new process they obtain a strong briquette by blending in some iron ore concentrate.

The use of peat for smelting iron-ore has also lurked in the Irish technological lore for some time; it may go back to Sir Robert Kane, and certainly can be connected with the pioneer work of Robert Tweedy who visited the USSR in the 20s as part of an official technical group sent by the first Free State Government.

The history and pre-history of the technology of peat has not to my knowledge been collected into a monograph; one sees occasional tantalising glimpses in articles and personal reminiscences.....

February 24 1971

The death of Dr Thomas McLaughlin, whose obituary was published last week, cannot be let pass without some reflections on the question of the relationship between science, technology and society. I am not going to write another obituary, but I would like to use the career of that remarkable man as an illustration of some of the arguments I have been trying to develop in this column..

Those who read his obituary will know that he started his career as a physicist, and did fundamental research in UCD on the breakdown of oil under electrical stress. He then went to Galway and studied electrical engineering, retaining his connection with physics by acting as assistant to the physics Professor. Later he went to work for Siemens in Germany, and was involved in the then novel development of the 'national grid'. While working on this in Pomerania he developed the idea of harnessing the Shannon for a national electrical network in Ireland. He pamphleteered and fought successfully against entrenched political opposition, and ended up as a Director of the ESB, from which he retired in 1957.

Those who have been reading this column consistently will recognise this as the type of career-profile that I have been advocating: one that starts 'fundamental', evolves towards applications and then takes up a socially responsible implementation with a sense of vision.

The weakness of the Irish 'science/technology/society' linkage system is that there are institutional obstacles towards the development of careers of this type. When they do occur (all too rarely), they involve in most cases personal sacrifice such as to deter all but the most intrepid. The institutional bias in Ireland is towards the development of a mandarinate.

To understand the full meaning of this word, it is desirable to have read, or at least to be acquainted with, via the lengthy reviews and evaluations which appeared some 10 years ago, Dr Joseph Needham's monumental study of the history of science and technology in China.

Dr Needham attempted in this to discover why it was that the Chinese, despite discovering most if not all of the principles underlying the technology of the industrial revolution Europe in the 18th century, failed to follow the developmental path of European capitalism.....

The reason is bound up with the social system and the philosophy of life. The ruling administrative class, or mandarins, were educated to regard practical work as ignoble. Technology remained the preserve of illiterate craftsmen. The same philosophy existed among the Greeks, who regarded geometry as a subject fit for gentlemen, but applied mechanics only fit for slaves. The theme has been developed by Professor Benjamin Farrington, in a book 'Greek Science' published inthe 40s. Its influence on the development of the 'binary system' in education, as exemplified in Britain and inherited in Ireland, is a matter for analysis elsewhere(3). It constitutes a major obstacle to the effective use of scientific technology in most contemporary developing countries.

I once had occasion to work in a physics research team which included a Brazilian, of Spanish aristocratic pedigree. The experiment involved an optical system, and it was essential that the surfaces be kept free from the least speck of dust. We spent much of our time 'cleaning windows', that is, all of us except the Brazilian, who opted out, because he said this wasn't physicists' work.

So this 'mandarin syndrome' is still with us. In Ireland, the core of the mandarinate is the Civil Service, who are mostly educated from Leaving Certificate level within the system by an apprenticeship procedure; when they want to get additional insights they turn to the academic economists. The language and philosophy which has evolved in this alliance is to be viewed with suspicion. One indicator of the influence of the 'economic mandarin' is the use of the word 'residual' (ie those things left over after the world has been conveniently abstracted into the categories 'land, labour and capital'). Academic economists have discovered that hidden among the 'residuals' is the most important factor of all, technology, which includes the human factors of skill, knowhow, accumulated experience, scientific method etc.

Full of this 'discovery', which for scientists and technologists is 'old hat' which they imbibed with their mothers' milk, the academic economic mandarins have persuaded the administrative mandarins that 'residual analysis' is important....

Scientists should not stand idly by and allow the economic mandarins to patronise them with the results of residual analysis. All macro-economic techniques are blunt instruments. Scientists would do better to lean on the experience of specific contributors to technological and social advance, such as the late Dr McLaughlin. The history of the socio-economic impact of science and technology onsociety is well documented in the works of authors such as J G Crowther and J D Bernal; there has recently been published a new edition of 'Science in History' by the latter.....

May 19 1971

I attended this year's Irish Management Institute conference (Killarney, April 22-24) and listened conscientiously to most of the papers, but I found myself wondering how many Irish firms will employ an extra scientist as a result? The title 'Agent of Change- Technology's Impact on Management' promised well. Perhaps here we would get behind the economists' grudging 'residuals' to a display of technological innovation as a prime mover.

I found the conference interesting, but not for the reasons intended by the organisers.

I find it surprising that it could be imagined that anyone practically concerned with the problems of Irish industrial survival might learn anything significant or useful from the type of international star-performer who flies in for a one-night stand. It is a sort of ritual; a cross between show-business and going to church, with a dash of real business thrown in, over coffee or lunch.

Let me deal first with the foreign stars: Ferranti, Hertzberg, Bell, Servan-Schreiber.

Sir Basil de Ferranti has had a distinguished career in technology, management and politics. In this he was helped, as he put it himself, by not having to work for a living. He took the conference on a tour of the current technological frontiers, ranging from wired-up monkey brains to video-cassettes enabling the managing director personally to pep up the field salesmen at 20 centres simultaneously. He added that the area mamager had to be present, to give the personal touch.

He didn't seem to be aware of the need for two-way communication. Chaplin, in 'Modern Times' had, perhaps, a more relevant message.

'There is now no limit to human achievement. The barriers are human.... By co-operation, the ultimate in living standards can be achieved.'

True, but pious. The main barrier to co-operation is the essential autocracy of the position and structure occupied by Sir Basil himself.

The same kind of basic ambiguity underlay Jean-Jaques Servan-Schreiber's performance. He is basically a multinational corporation man. He rails against bureaucracy and antiquated national-state civil services. He believes that the multinational corporation, with power exceeding that of many of the States in which it operates, is an influence for cross-fertilising cultures. He advises us, in effect, to join one, as a nation. (A small voice asking 'how' was not noticeably answered in the ensuing torrent of fluent English. How do you join an octopus?).

He fringed on technology when he hammered the British for again selling out to the USA over the Rolls-Royce/Lockheed deal, and ignoring the claims of the European airbus. He believes in the European corporation as a means of retaining independence of the USA. Yet by the operation of his Euro-corporation he throws the European populations into a US-style melting-pot, which will ultimately wipe out the ethnic diversity to which he allegedly aspires. At the same time he mixes with the American elite.

He did us a service by exposing to us the mind of Euro-imperialism. We should be warned; we should study their divisions, and profit by them.

He idealises the businessman who interferes in politics: Beaverbrook's role in ensuring that Churchill rather than Halifax succeeded Chamberlain was his example. (In this case, the result happened to be in the British interest.) Servan-Schreiber would have this procedure generalised, and used in the interests of the multinational corporation.

He would sweep away those bureaucracies which react (however imperfectly and slowly) to the wishes of the people, however haltingly expressed by the electoral process, and replace them with....what? He and Kenneth Galbraith have the answer. They will call the boys together, let them discuss a memorandum, and then Galbraith will write the book. In other words, government by philosopher-kings; democracy out the window; back to Plato's Republic.

If this type of thinking is to supercede bourgeois democracy, God help us.....

Dr Hertzberg is an industrial psychologist, a consultant of international standing. His principal contribution was an appeal to humanise work, to enrich jobs, to allow work to become creative. He is rediscovering, from within the bitter experience of contemporary US capitalism, the alienattion process defined by Marx over 100 years ago, and echoed by Veblen(4) at the turn of the century. His message, or exhortation, to the capitalists is that if they are to survive they will have to reverse this process. Some, perhaps, will listen. But they will run into the problem that the workers with the enriched jobs might become political and realise that they don't really need the capitalist. There is a dilemma here; people will buy Hertzberg's book and try to resolve it, probably without success.

Dr Bell is Chairman of the Commission on the Year 2000, in Harvard. This is an attempt to predict various possible technological futures, so as to be able, possibly, to choose between them.

For someone with such pretensions he appears to have a remarkable lack of historical understanding. I quote: 'Where.....did any contemporary writer notice the decline of feudalism and the rise of a capitalist economy? A process so long and complicated has no single 'birthyear' to mark its emergence. There are no single 'turning-points', such as a political revolution, to signal the transformation of a society.' This, coming from a citizen of the nation founded in arms by Paine and Washington, is a very revealing statement.

The central modern problem, how to establish social control over the technological Frankenstein monster, is insoluble without political revolution. Because this is distasteful, Dr Bell refuses to see it. He consequently refuses to see earlier analogous and simpler events in the history of his own nation.

This curious blindness to the nature of the power-structure leads him to the further illusion that the leadership will rest with 'the research corporations, industrial laboratories...and the universitties..', in other words with Dr Bell and his like.

The directors of the multinational corporations, knowing the truth, can sit back contentedly watching Dr Bell and his like indulge his illusions and perpetrate his deceptions. They will be needed, to undo the dangerous effects of the 'job-enrichment' subversion preached by Dr Hertzberg.

Dr Bell lists five main areas of technological development for the coming decades:

1. Energy production: fast breeder reactors, controlled thermonuclear reactions, magnetohydrodynamics;

2. International communications via satellites: by 1980 he predicts that the cost of a phone-call to anywhere in the world will be as little as a dollar;

3. Marine resources, in the sense of oil, gas, metal;

4. Mapping of the Earth's resources from satellites;

5. Weather control.

This type of technological crystal-gazing is not difficult to do. The real problems are: what do we do with the energy, what do we say to each other across the globe, what do we use the resources for when we find them, how do we conserve them so that future generations can enjoy them, in whose interests do we control the weather?

It will take more than Dr Bell to answer these questions. They are in fact already being answered by the ordinary people of the United States who by political pressure have stopped the supersonic transport programme and are currently preventing Consolidated Edison from siting a nuclear power station in New York city.

The problem is how to guide the peoples' healthy reaction against being pushed around by technological factors under the control of remote business interests into a constructive and organised movement to make technology serve the people, rather than a Luddite movement to smash it.

Against this background of the big outside world, the lectures by Tadhg Twomey and Jock Harbison on the Irish mini-technological scene may seem small beer. Yet they were more significant and more relevant.

Jock Harbison's paper showed a sense of history; it also gave some indication of the politics behind the O'Malley 'Education Revolution'(5), if the moderate, necessary, overdue and still largely paper reforms initiated by the late Minister can be so euphemistically described. In this, perhaps the most significant element will prove to be the Regional Colleges of Technology.....

Harbison's central question was again basically political: 'have we the wisdom to choose from the cornucopia of technology?'.... In question time someone asked why the ESB didn't vertically integrate and start producing its own hardware, going into the export market. This wasn't answered, possibly because the production of electrical hardware is firmly under the control of the multinational giants. It was further suggested from the floor that native firms were being plucked of their key talent by foreign firms enjoying the 'tax holiday'; criticism of the latter principle appears to be mounting.

Tadhg Twomey gave a straightforward account of the achievements of the State sector in the application of science ant technology in the food industry.

The problem here is how to get technology out of the State sector and generalised throughout the economy. If the private firms are foreign-owned, they do their research abroad, or else poach the talent. Irish firms are too small to afford specialist staff, and are only marginally aware of the services available through the IIRS.

I quote: 'How many Irish directors realise that, for years, foreign firms have canvassed the science and technology faculties in our universities, months before the students do their final exams, in order to offer jobs overseas to our graduates? This is a resource which we have and must use, if we want to survive and grow as a trading nation. I believe we have now reached a stage of know-how in Irish industry, partly through foreign investment here, and partly through our own Irish company growth, in which ideas are becoming self-generating.

Maintenance engineers are producing interesting modifications to foreign machinery, production engineers see ways of combining two foreign machines into an integrated processing system, chemists are finding new blends of chemicals to give a better product at less cost, food processing technologists are finding improved convenience products and packaging technologists are designing product packs which make a stronger appeal.

But are our directors, boards and managers conscious of the possibilities of technology? Are our companies doing enough to encourage creativity? This is our job, ladies and gentlemen, and time is not on our side'.

April 19 1972

....A publication called 'Research Disclosure'......has a worldwide circulation and fulfills a real need, namely, if you take out a patent in one country, it enables you to pre-empt the taking out of a patent by anyone else in any other country, by providing an 'instant disclosure' service.

Normally, the filing of a patent application is no safeguard against applications elsewhere, until the patent is published in the country of origianl filing. In the British case this may be three or four years.

The best strategy, therefore, is to file an application in one country (that deemed most advantageous) and then instantly disclose.

This procedure in fact renders redundant all but a small number of major world patent centres, and speeds the flow of information to potential licence-holders......


...the Gaeltarra Eireann(6) factory at Cuil Aodha.......has arisen from (what appears to be) an IIRS success story: they have produced a machine for inspecting bottles after washing and before filling, rejecting those which are dirty or contain foreign bodies. The IIRS was responsible for the mechanical handling system, while the two engineers whose idea it was (Deaglan O Taluin and Bart O'Connor) concentrated on the electronic scanning system.

The Cuil Aodha factory has cost 40,000 pounds and is expected by September of this year to be employing 40 people. Thus a relatively high-technology industry need not have a high cost per job.......

There are, however, problems: what happens if the trend into plastic milk-bottles develops at a greater rate?.....a one-product company is on shaky ground. There is also the problem of specialist technical services in remote places.

If there are spin-off developments, resulting in the devlopment of a small industrial complex, how does one ensure that the language and culture is reinforced rather than undermined?......if we are embarking on the road of serious Gaeltacht industrialisation, we need a serious, well-thought-out and creatively administered socio-linguistic policy......

September 6 1972

I had the opportunity of visiting the Talcoma factory at Cuil Aodha;their bottle-inspecting machine seems to be capable of breaking into the world market creditably, as a demonstration of the ability of Irish based development technologists.

The basic idea is to use a narrow beam of light in 'flying spot' scanning mode, and to pick up the scattered light using an integrator and photomultiplier. The bottle itself is spun. This is a substantial improvement on traditional bottle-inspection, which does a very imperfect job, usually looking only at the bottom.

There is a queue of potential purchasers, many of them anxious for their plant to be used for the final de-bugging work. There is a revival of interest in the returnable bottle, thanks to the environmental conservation lobby, to that the existence of a long-term world market is assured, and the 'plastic bottle' menace has receded.

The development costs have been substantial, and many of those concerned have had to make personal sacrifices. The Talcoma experience supports the arguments made recently on the Financial page.....in favour of having a National Development Corporation, to help finance the exploitation of IIRS inventions (among other things), and casts doubt on Dr Nichol's suggestion(7) that this function is adequately carried out by the IIRS itself.

There is a very wide gap between a working prototype and a production model. This gap must be financed; otherwise there is no pay-off on the IIRS investment into development projects of this type.

October 25 1972

The recent IDA report underlines a point of view which I have developed in relation to the research strategy of the IIRS. In commenting recently on the annual report of that body(8), I drew attention to the high value that they put on their 'offensive strategy' compared with the traditional 'defensive strategy' (ie innovation with new products and processes, rather than improvements to existing ones). I suggested that the value of the former, as estimated by IIRS, included jobs gained, while the value of the latter did not allow for the disutility of jobs lost in its absence.

The IDA report admits that the net 'gain' in jobs, despite its best efforts, is -2000. This suggests to me that 'defensive' strategy, in firms which are only marginally viable, is weak. The problem is whether to spend scarce R and D funds on strengthening it, or to spend them on 'innovation': whether to make better cheese, or to make aerosol control valves(9), electronic one-armed bandits and the like.

The current IIRS policy comes down aggressively in favour of the latter. Dr Nichol, in his inaugural address to the Institute of Chemistry at Belfield last Wednesday, gave some of the principles underlying this policy. I summarise his remarks, with my own comments interspersed parenthetically.

There are various definitions of 'innovation' extant: any cost-reducing technological improvement; new processes or systems; novelty without necessarily invention. R and D does not necessarily involve innovation, but the converse holds. A successful innovation adds more to the value of a product than its cost, or take more from its cost than from its value.

(A cost-reducing innovation can have qualitiative implications: the removable tyre-cover made the bicycle available to the mass-market by reducing the cost of mending a puncture.)

A study of 58 pairs of innovations by the Science Policy Research Unit in Sussex may perhaps enable a recipe for success to be determined.. Firstly, the innovator must grasp the users real needs; then he must know how to market; he must do good technical development, leaving no 'bugs' at production-time; he must know how to use outside advice and must be well linked with the scientific community. Finally, the key manager involved must have high rank in the hierarchy. Of the above factors, the first is the most important.

The biggest obstacle to innovation is lack of technological awareness within the firm; in this case the firm is said to be 'production-orientated'.

(Here, I think, Dr Nichol and I part company. I hold that there is no contradiction between being concerned to produce what you are producing as well and as cheaply as possible, and the concept of 'innovation'. This false antithesis is at the root of much of the trouble. The idea that 'innovation' means 'rip out all the old equipment and start producing something new' will, of course, frighten any manager out of his wits. You have to learn to walk before running, and gently introduce management to innovation via cost-cutting on the existing processes, preferably by better utilisation, less waste etc, rather than by saving labour or forced obsolescence.)

Dr Nichol goes on to give (what to my mind is a very restrictive) recipe for success in innovation in the context of Irish industry as influenced by IIRS:

1. There must be a 'technologically aware' person high up in the firm;

2. The innovation should be a new product, with large volume sales, patentable, with good royalty potential;

3. It should not depend on any factor outside our control;

4. It should be in a field where innovation is expected.

The above is mostly (apart from parentheses) Dr Nichol.

I regard this definition as being of some validity in the rather narrow field of hardware designed by mechanical engineers for mass-production. I question the relevance of this approach for the problems facing the Irish economy. Can it be that we are the victims of our academic- orientated educational system, which has left a gap in our human resources labelled 'practically competent people', which has had to be filled (in the case of the IIRS) by British engineers used to an British manufacturing environment?

I am not making a chauvinist case against all things British. I have a high regard for British engineers; I myself have enjoyed working with them. But there are gaps in the thinking of the British engineering fraternity which result from their strong hardware-producing tradition. They tend to think of the machine itself rather than the total system using it.

There is a danger that, if the resources of the IIRS are concentrated behind the 'offensive strategy', based on new physical products, we will land ourselves at the tail-end of the great-nation rat-race of which the conservationists are becoming increasingly critical. If in the meantime we neglect the traditional things that we do well, the latter could fall on evil days. How much R and D has been done in wool, flax, cotton and natural fibres, compared to that in artificial fibres? People tend to forget that the latter are based, almost without exception, on fossil fuels, of which the end is in sight. We should be conserving them carefully.

If we follow blindly the current IIRS 'offensive' strategy, I suggest that for every 'offensive' job we create, we will lose two in some undefended sector, where 'defensive' strategy would be relevant. This, indeed, is to date the experience of the IDA. It has also been the experience of the Northern Ireland economy for the last quarter-century; it was originally pin-pointed by Isles and Cuthbert(10) as early as 1957....

April 4 1973

I witnessed an example of a successful transition from research and development to production for the marketplace at Kells last Thursday which reflects credit on all concerned: the launching of a water-treatment system suitable for small-scale application in rural areas.

Before describing it, let me go into the background. I am convinced that the belated appreciation of the importance of water in rural Ireland is one of the prime causes of the low marriage and high emigration rates in recent years. In most cases, electricity preceded water, a curious inversion of the natural evolution of domestic technology.

In the pre-electric days of the last century, the Ascendancy big-house had its hydraulic ram, which reliably pumped water up to a tank in the attic, often against a head of 100 feet or more, from a river flowing through the demesne. These were simple devices; they were serviced by a farm labourer with elementary tools. Occasionally an eel would get caught in the valve.

There is no reason why this highly appropriate technology could not have been adapted to supply group water schemes in the 20s and 30s, at least where there was a river with a few feet of fall. Even without this resource, the diesel pumping engine was available in a cheap and reliable form.

The obstacle to this type of development was the application of urban standards of water hygiene in rural areas, by unimaginative County Councils and an equally unimaginative Department of Local Government. I remember enquiring in Connemara in the early 60s why wasn't a local water-supply available from the lakes; I was told that the lake water had been tested and found unfit for a piped water supply.

The Ascendancy big-house solution to this problem was so childishly simple and practical that it never seemed to occur to the Local Authorities. There was a house-rule which said: 'don't drink the water from the tap; if you want water for your whiskey, there is well-water in a pail in the kitchen', or something similar.

The failure to develop simple mildly-polluted piped-water schemes, suitable for animals, washing and general domestic purposes, based on the available technology of the time, has contributed to the mass rejection of Irish rural life by two generations of post-Treaty Irish, with the result that such last vestiges of Celtic civilisation as remain are on the verge of extinction.

Then in the fifties came rural electrification, and in its wake the Aquadare system. This consists of a pump, a tank and a pressure-switch. It is an ingenious device, because it obviates the need to install a tank with a gravity feed. The water is pumped into a pressure-vessel, compressing the residual air, which stores the energy necessary to push the water out into the domestic piping system. The pump is cut out by the pressure-switch; it cuts in again when the pressure drops.

Unlike river-water, which is usually soft, the well-water from which the average isolated farm-house Aquadare draws its supply is usually loaded with iron, calcium, magnesium etc, in a form such that they deposit on the insides of the hot-water system. Nowadays the well-water is usually polluted, into the bargain, with bacteria from farmyard runoff, septic tank overflows, pig-slurry and the Lord knows what.

Let me return now to the Kells event. The gap has finally been closed between urban and rural water quality, thanks to a treatment system invented in the Agricultural Institute, consisting of a chemist (Tom Spillane), a biochemist (Joe O'Shea) and an engineer (John Sugrue). The system is being marketed by Unidare as an accesory to their Aquadare pump, at a modest price.

The principle, which is novel, simple, cheap and ingenious, consists in the conversion of the pressure-switch of the Aquadare into a metering-pump by means of a couple of lengths of plastic tube. This is combined with a storage-tank for three months' stock of treatment chemicals, a few brackets and fittings. The whole can be fitted to an existing Aquadare pump in seven minutes unskilled working time.

Each time the pressure-switch operates, a calculated dose of mixture is automatically added in. The composition of the mix is tailored to suit the chemistry and bacteriology of your water. You chlorinate to get rid of the bacteria, and you sequester the calcium and magnesium in the form of hexametaphosphates, which are stable to heat. Iron it will handle up to 5 ppm; above this level, if you want to get rid of iron you have to have a supplementary precipitation unit. You can add fluoride if you like.

The old ion-exchange resin system, which you used to have to remember to revive with brine every so often, never caught on as a domestic device. Anyway, why take the calcium out when it is good for you? The new system not only diverts the calcium from the inside of the boiler (where it used deleteriously to deposit) into your childrens' bones (where it is needed), but gives you a beneficial dose of phosphates as well.

I understand that the Institute has taken an enlightened view of the patent rights, and some benefits are likely to accrue to the inventors.. These could be considerable, if the world market is exploited, as seems possible.....

September 12 1973

I attended a seminar aimed at familiarising Irish businessmen with the patent system on September 4.....

There are 60,000 patent applications annually in the UK and only 2000 in Ireland. According to Mr P Slavin of the Patent Office, this represents the cream of what the world thinks is worth while protecting, given the small size of the Irish market.

Very few of the articles so patented end up by being manufactured in Ireland. One way in which an Irish entrepreneur could use the patent system is to scan the list and apply for a compulsory licence to manufacture in Ireland; this is available four or five years after the patent is filed. A flaw in the 1964 Act, according to Mr Slavin, is that this licence need not be exclusive. If it were, it would be a greater incentive for people to apply for compulsory licences. Patents which have lapsed (after 16 years) also make good source material for entrepreneurial reading.

The procedure for getting a patent (according to Mr D O'Connor, who is a patent agent) is to keep your mouth shut, disclosing only to people under your control, and then file a 'provisional', with the aid of a patent agent (cost: about £35). Then you can disclose, filing in other countries subsequently.....

The IIRS contract research capability was outlined by Mr B Herriott: one procedure is for technology developed within IIRS to be licenced out to firms judged by the IIRS likely to make a success of the invention..... (...the later stages of the development process must be close to the ultimate site of production. This link is weak at present.....the missing link is someone in the firm, a development-orientated group, which has won the confidence of the production people by a creative record of cost-cutting. Without the existence of such a group in the acceptor-firm, the licencing-out procedure will be a non-starter; the graft won't take (RJ)).

Mr A D Suttle, of Coras Tractala, spoke of licencing in products with export potential. Most licences are know-how agreements rather than actual patents.

Mr J Butler of the IDA outlined how firms can qualify for 50% of the cost of development work, equipment, consultancy fees etc. This figure was queried very sharply from the floor by an industrial chemist with a successful innovation record, who stated that he had never heard of more than 20% of the cost actually being covered. Obstacles to the issue of the full amount were always found, or there were delays and indecisions, resulting in losses.

Patents as a source of technical information were extolled by Mr W Burns of the IIRS; they are to the industrial technologist what the paper is to the scientist. The UK abridgement service is useful. The Austrian patent office is making a bid to become a world centre for patents in this sense; they also operate a small-firm orientated consultancy service.

Mr MJ Quinn of the Patent Office outlined the status of the world, European and EEC patent laws. There is a European Convention, as distinct from the EEC. This looks like becoming established in Munich, despite UK opposition. It will be policy to farm out 40% of the applications to the national offices. The Europatent contains 'Byzantine conundrums'; it is a 'lawyers' paradise' and contains 'many traps for the unwary'.

Mr H J P Murdoch outlined the Irish patent statistics: only 10% of applications in the Irish office originate in Ireland, half of these are granted, half of those granted run the full term.

Some £11M are spent on imported drugs; many of these could be manufactured in Ireland on compulsory licence.

By and large, this seminar showed up the weakness of the Irish innovative tradition, and confirmed the critiques made in Mr Murdoch's book, published last year by the TCD Administrative Research Bureau.

August 21 1974

Dr Stephen Bragg, Vice-chancellor of Brunel University, in the 'New Scientist' of August 1 has attempted to quantify the hypothesis that a change in job acts as a stimulus to creativity. He challenges the presumption that 'research is a young man's game' and that no scientist over 30 is creative.

Dr Bragg makes two hypotheses: that the rate of learning new facts about a field of work is proportional to the amount that one does not know, and that the chance of making a novel contribution is also proportional to what one does not know. By combining these two inverse exponential functions, one can produce a 'creativity curve' with a maximum which occurs at a time related to the rate of absorbtion of knowledge.

If you know too much, your thinking will be in grooves. If you know too little, you will have plenty of wild ideas. Somewhere in between, you will be genuinely innovative. By normalising his curves to the lore, Dr Bragg comes up with a recommendation of a 3-4 year stint as being optimal for someone aged 20-30, and 8-10 years for the final period before retirement.

This suggests very strongly that someone of 30-35 who was been following the same line since graduation badly needs a change, and that the failure of many to do so, due to constraints imposed by establishments, pension-rights etc, is the source of the 'too old at 30' myth(11). Dr Bragg adds in a useful piece of lore relating to J J Thompson (the discoverer of the electron), who when Professor of Physics at Campridge used to advise his students never to read the literature on the subject until they had spent six months thinking how they themselves would tackle the problem.

I can cap this with a similar piece of lore, related to Professor Peter Fowler (who incidentally is the grandson of Rutherford, Thompson's successor) of Bristol, who in an argument with Harry Messel (now in Australia, but then in the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, where he was for long a legendary figure) was accused by the latter of not reading his recent paper on some germane topic. Peter Fowler is reported to have replied testily 'I don't read papers, I write them!'. This takes J J Thompsons principle, as outlined by Dr Bragg, a stage further.

There is scope for the study of the interaction between learning, creativity, innovation and communications.....

October 9 1974

....The September 26 issue of the Western Mail, which I had occasion to buy when in Bangor, North Wales, recently, carried a photograph of an electric motor-cycle, driven by a Swansea journalist, manufactured in Dublin and recently introduced to Britain. The top speed was stated to be 30 mph, range 35-40 miles, overnight charging from the mains, price 257 pounds in Britain. The accumulators give it a nice low centre of gravity, and it is clearly a useful machine. Running costs are claimed to be 25p per week.

It is alleged to be an 'American idea'. Well, now, I remember an exhibition in the Mansion House in Dublin in or about 1945, when all the Irish war-time inventions were on display. This, or its elder brother, was on display, as large as life, the Dubliners' response to the petrol shortage. It never caught on then, because electricity and lead accumulators were also short.

There is very little to the idea, it is obvious; the weight penalties associated with the metal shell, which have dominated the electric car problem for so long, just don't exist in the case of the bicycle. I wonder is its designers have risen to things like regenerative braking and speed control by thyristor-chopper. It would be criminal to spoil a good idea by using a dissipative control system....

(A subsequent visit revealed a small firm, working from a garage, producing entirely for export, a product of the export tax-relief system. A test-ride on the product revealed no speed control whatever; one had full power or nothing. Little has been heard of it since. No doubt there were maintenance problems; people do not recommend to their friends a product if the manufacturers are not available to stand over and maintain it.)

February 11 1975

...A grant of £100,000 has been awarded to the UCC Electrical Engineering Department, in order to enable Dr G T Wrixon to set up a Millimetre Diode Laboratory. This arises under a quadripartite agreement signed jointly by UCC, the Science Research Council of the UK, the Centre National de Recherche Scientifique of France and the German Max Planck Institute.

The work of the Millimeter Diode Laboratory relates to communications. Observers of the Irish telephone system will remember the building of the microwave links: those large dishes on top of towers, so disliked by environmentalists.....

Line-of-sight transmissions of very short wavelengths carry a large number of channels for telephonic signals, so that they are much cheaper than digging up the road and laying cables.

These microwave links were built in the early 60s, with the civilian technology of the 50s, derived from the military technology of the 40s. The wavelength of the transmitted signal is of the order of centimetres, whence the ease of focussing with mirror systems, obeying the laws of geometrical optics.

The trend is into shorter wavelengths, as thereby more communications channels can be fitted into a single carrier signal. The technology of the 70s is therefore developing the means of producing, directing, receiving and decoding millimetre-wave signals.

This region of the spectrum is the same as the spectroscopists' 'far infra-red'. It would be no use, however, using thermally-generated infra-red radiation as the carrier-wave, because it is not coherent. The phase of the wave-trains is random; imagine trying to convey information using the waves of the sea. Whence the importance of developing devices capable of generating and detecting millimetre waves electronically rather than thermally.

The technology of millimetre-wave semiconductor devices is highly exacting. It involves making integrated circuits.....using gallium arsenide....with the individual diodes of the order of 2 microns in diameter, spaced 5 microns apart.....and arranging for electrical contact with the outside world...

It is a credit to UCC that they are able to establish some European standing in this field......electronic component manufacturers in Ireland will have an advanced laboratory available to them for prototyping work....

..It is, regrettably, considerably easier for an Irish University to get European or American funds for basic or applied research than to establish any significant rapport with firms operating in Ireland. This situation is changing, but painfully slowly.....foreign firms in Ireland have sometimes found that they can get quick results by drawing in local expertise on contract applied research, but the more usual pattern is for them to refer their prototype development work and their production problems to a centralised R and D unit somewhere abroad.

If Irish university researchers are to break into this market, they will need to organise themselves to look businesslike and to deliver to a deadline. They will find that the academic management structure does not lent itself to this process easily.


It has been the policy of this feature....to attempt to make people aware of scientific technology as a resource, embodied in trained manpower. There is lacking, however, in Ireland a means of matching this resource with a need. It has become well established that 50% or more of the holders of science degrees emigrated, at least in the period up to 1971, when first there was a head-count in the Census. Of those who remain, only a minority work at their specialities.

This tradition of export of potential technological entrepreneurs is not new. Anyone with half an hour to spare when in Belfast could do worse than drop in to the Queens University Science Library, where they will find.....an exhibition devoted to John Boyd Dunlop, Harry Ferguson and Sir John MacNeill. This is part of a series organised by the Librarian, Shiela Landy, in honour of historic Irish figures in science and technology(12).

Of the three mentioned, only MacNeill managed to carve himself a career in Ireland. He served his time as a civil engineer with Telford, helping to build the Holyhead Road. He initially espoused the cause of steam road vehicles, but soon saw that rail technology was the coming thing and he proceeded to become the leading railway engineer in Ireland. Perhaps his most spectacular achievement was the Boyne viaduct, which completed the rail link between Dublin and Belfast in 1850.

MacNeill was the first person in Ireland to be appointed to a university Chair in Engineering; the TCD Engineering School annually commemorates him with a prestige lecture.....

Thus MacNeill was an entrepreneur, competent in a relevant technology, who understood the importance of the higher education system, contributing to it and to the development of the Irish economy.

Dunlop and Ferguson were also innovators with highly relevant technologies. Both began with Irish roots, but both had to go abroad to develop. Mechanical imagination alone is not enough; it has to be linked to a market...

To find this linkage in the 1880s in the case of Dunlop it was necessary to go to the English market, via the firm of du Cros, a pioneer in the motor business. Dunlop lost control.

Likewise Ferguson went to Ford in Detroit with his 3-point hydraulic implement mount for a tractor, revolutionising agricultural technology. At this time (the 1920s) there was no IDA to steer such developments into the Ford Cork factory, and a national enterprise was lost.

Looking at the present scene, I see some signs of entrepreneurship stirring on the various college campuses.....the close relationship between the NIHE in Limerick, and the various Limerick and Shannon firms associated with SFADCO, promises to become creative.

In the case of the Dublin Colleges, I get the impression that the principal linkage is at the level of individual consultancies: remunerative personal arrangements between College staff members and firms requiring to buy expertise. This is gradually coming out into the open and ceasing to be regarded by the academic Establishment as reprehensible.

However, there are snags: sometimes, by marginal costing, academics can get themselves into the bad books of the professional consultancy firms, including the IIRS. They can also get into the bad books of firms who come to depend on them, and then find that they are not in a position to be on call continually.

These problems would be soluble if college consultancy were to get itself organised....

June 3 1975

I have previously referred to the existence of opportunities for small firms with knowhow to carry out an R and D business, developing prototypes and producing trial batches, licencing out the production if the scale gets too big. One such firm is Research and Production ltd, a member of the Slazenger Group, which has a laboratory in Dun Laoire. I met the Managing Director, Mitchell Elliot, who showed me around.

Their current success is a device which has developed as a result of interaction with Norman Butler, who is Professor of Conservative Dentistry in TCD. It consists of a surgeon's knife, for which the cutting energy is supplied by the heating effect of concentrated radio-frequency current.

The actual 'knife' is a tiny flexible wire, mounted on a hand-held probe. (Old-timers can perhaps helpfully visualise a primus-stove pricker.) signal-generator feeds 70 watts of RF at 3MHz to this probe. The return path for the current is via a relatively large earthing-plate placed in contact with the victim.

The lines of flow of the current are such that nearly all the heating effect takes place in the immediate neighborhood of the 'knife', giving rise to a clean, cauterised cut. The same effect can be obtained with power lasers, but much more expensively......

Up to now there have been problems with RF surgical systems, such as to make lasers worth looking at. The 'R and P' system claims to have overcome these by designing the signal-generator to give a pure, unmodulated sine-wave. Any modulation (eg by 'mains hum') gives a corrugated or stitched effect to the cut, with carbonised areas where the current is momentarily too high. If the current is too low, the probe picks up debris.

R and P are also producing a small gas laser, adapted to the educational market. They have, in addition, taken up at the suggestion of the IIRS the production of a digital width controller system, developed to meet the needs of the plastic film industry. Plastic film is produced in long strips by a hot blowing process. Control of strip width calls for a feedback loop which can tolerate the strip wandering laterally within fairly wide limits, while remaining at constant width. A digital logic system takes care of this.

R and P have some projects up their sleeve......one such involves energy-concentration with large capacitors (of the order of 15Kjoules). An electrical analogue of explosive welding? High magnetic field pulsed devices?

In Dun Laoire they have a staff of seven: two management, two engineers, two electrical technicians and one mechanical . I was reminded of the Bangor University High Voltage Laboratory, which has a similar staff and is turning over about 100,000 pounds annually in high-voltage test equipment. Sales projections for the coming year for R and P are of this order.

July 8 1975

I referred on June 17 (13) to a study by Chase Econometrics in the US in which it was suggested that investment in R and D was counter-inflationary. I now follow up with some additional transatlantic experience which shows how best a firm can benefit from R and D. There is more to it than employing 'boffins'; this indeed on its own can be merely ornimental, or even harmful.

Jules Schwartz of the Wharton School (University of Pennsylvania) and Joel Goldhar (National Science Foundation), in a sociological study of factors governing innovation, have established the crucial role of middle management in interpreting between senior management and specialists. In the US environment, the conclusion drawn is 'encourage middle management and you encourage innovation'. The conclusion drawn in Ireland should perhaps be different: lets inject first into middle management some people with a first-hand understanding of scientific technology. You could 'encourage' the average Irish B Comm until you were blue in the face, and you would be no nearer bridging the cultural gap which yawns between management and scientific technology.


Another model for the 'research into profits' transformation is the 'research park' near the campus, leased by the University by to selected firms, as a location for such work as might benefit by proximity.. This concept goes back, in its modern form, to 1970, when it was initiated by the University of Utah. (Embryonically it can perhaps be said to have originated in Cambridge in the 20s, with the establishment of Pye on the fringe of the University as a scientific instrument manufacturer; there probably are earlier examples...)

Dr Mark L Money, the Executive Director of the Research Park project, in an article in the May 'Industrial Research', distils the experience of the first five years into three hypotheses which, for his future decision-making purposes, he now regards as proven to his satisfaction. The three 'Money Laws' (if I may coin a pun) are:

1. Most research-park tenants are there because of a logical tie-in with graduate-school activity.

2. Entry to research-parks must be restricted; you must not let in a light industry or a law-firm just to sell the space.

3. A park should be located within easy reach of an urban centre and an airport, as well as a university campus.

Thus there is beginning to accumulate some useful experience, suggesting that viable sites for Research Parks would include Limerick (near NIHE and Shannon), north Dublin (in the wake of the Ballymun College of Technology(14) when this materialises, and near the IIRS), and Cork.

Limerick is already moving in this direction with an IIRS centre on the NIHE campus. University College Cork, however, is slow to move, having opted out of taking up the experimental 'Industrial Liaison Officer' scheme initiated by the National Science Council in 1971. This scheme has been taken up by UCG and TCD; both appear to be moving in the direction of on-campus applied-research units with industrial linkages, and are experimenting with various ad-hoc management structures. This can perhaps be regarded as an embryonic 'research park' concept.

The one site in Ireland labelled 'research park' is owned by the IDA and is at Naas, some 20 miles from Dublin. To date its only tenant is Standard Pressed Steel (SPS International) which houses one of its R and D centres there. It is close enough to Dublin to have developed a university linkage (with the TCD Graduate School of Engineering Studies)(15) and constitutes an approximation to the Money model, though the site is, in my opinion, too remote.

Small on-campus applied-research units are more likely to suit the scale of Irish-based industry. The TCD Industrial Liaison Office is initiating a scheme whereby a group of firms, sharing common problems, can buy co-operatively into the control of an applied-research unit on the campus(16). The problem is to ensure that industrial research is not subsidised out of educational funds; instead industrial research should help to strengthen College finances. Prospective clients should therefore not expect to be able to buy academic expertise at marginal cost, as sometimes heretofore they have done.

One embryonic applications unit has a creditable track-record for developing on-line mini-computer systems in an industrial environment.....with National Science Council Support(17).....


Up to now the emphasis in applied bacteriology has been in the medical field......the industrial field has stuck to fermentation processes tailored to produce specific substances, the best known being alcohol; others such as citric acid or gluconic acid are produced in bulk by Pfizer in Cork, using the organism 'aspergillus niger'.

The use of micro-organisms to get rid of waste products is by no means novel; the practice of burying the dead is perhaps the oldest deliberate practice established for the purpose.

Now that our increasingly complicated civilisation is producing polluting effluents of ever-increasing variety, there has come about a need to adapt organisms to get rid of them effectively. This is the role of Badgett Cooke Biochemicals ltd, who will shortly be moving to near Dublin, employing some 20-25 people, mostly graduates, in the production of freeze-dried bacteria in bulk....

This is a typical university spin-off industry. One of the principals, Jeremy Cooke, is a TCD graduate. Both have contributed their own know-how to their firm, which is associated with a parent firm in the US from which they have taken up 15 years of development and applications experience.

There is a treatment system for each problem, with its appropriate blend of selected bacteria. For example, they have a system labelled 'Petrobac' which was developed by cultivating strains of bacteria which live in refinery effluent pools. This makes short work of oily beaches, without destroying marine life, as do detergents. The oil is metabolised by the organisms and oxidised to CO2 and water. You add about 50lbs of Petrobac to 50 gallons of sea-water and spray over an acre of beach. In warm weather the job will be done in a week.

They have other bacteria specialising in greases (eg for blocked drains); there is even one which will handle toxic industrial effluents such as phenols......(18).

July 22 1975

...(The opening of the) Cambridge Science Park, which is a £650,000 investment by Trinity College, Cambridge, was reported in the Times of July 4.... Spin-off firms started by entrepreneurial-minded academics are envisaged, as well as branches or R and D departments of existing high-technology firms.

Older-generation spin-offs are the Pye group, Cambridge Scientific Instruments, Aero Research (now Ciba-Geigy), Metals Research and Torvac (a vacuum-technology firm). It is expected that the existence of a 'science park' on the fringe of Cambridge will facilitate this process.

The idea has been pioneered in its present form in the UK by Herriott-Watt (Edinburgh), although the process of spin-off of academic expertise from Cambridge into applied technology goes back to Isaac Newton, who became Master of the Mint.

The use of academic staff as consultants to industry in an organised way is developing through the Industrial Liaison Offices, of which there are 30 in the UK, seven of them being registered as consultancy companies.

This netweok extends into Ireland, with John Potts in Belfast.. Michael Moroney in Galway, and the writer in Trinity College Dublin.....

In order to illustrate the need for Industrial Liaison Offices in the Colleges of Technology, consider the annual exhibition of final-year student projects by the Bolton St engineering students....

There were 16 projects, each with working hardware and documentation. Some of them showed considerable promise from the point of view of potential for development into marketable devices or systems, fulfilling real needs.

I noted particularly the Mannion work on the use of native Irish sand in making moulds for casting.. Moulding sand currently is imported... measurement of the relevant physical properties (have shown that) some Irish beach sands are as good as the imported sands sanctified by tradition....a heat pump system developed by Joe Murtagh, adapted to heat a glasshouse, using a local lake as heat-source.....an electromagnetic clutch with fluid shock-absorbing cushion (F P Dempsey).

John F Williams had developed an invalid car seat, which docked to a wheelchair....

How can these projects be brought forward? Many of the students have not yet got jobs. In their present form the hardware is too crude to be called prototype; it is at the level of 'demonstration of principle'. Liaison between the College and industry ought to be developing along lines such as to make it easy for any of these students to spend a further year....polishing up the system into an engineered prototype, with an eye to production, as an employee of an interested firm. He could spend some of his post-graduate time with the firm, mastering the relevant production techniques, and liaising with the marketing people. Subsequently he would join the firm and develop with the product.

This seems to me to be a workable model for the College-industry interface, as seen by the student, which ought to be developed by State aid. There is a wealth of experience abroad, and some in Ireland, mostly positive.

August 26 1975

.....The old methylene blue test for milk quality is being superseded by a technique known as 'plate-counting'....An instrument for doing this is in process of development between Waterford Co-op and the Agricultural Institute at Moorepark.

...The instrument consists of two parts:

1. a device for 'plating out' samples automatically (ie flushing a small determined quantity onto a Petri-dish containing a prepared growth-medium in sterile gel form),

2. a device for counting automatically the ensuing colonies of bacteria.

There are a number of devices on the market which perform the second task......the first however remains a major labour-intensive bottleneck. This was tackled by an Irish engineer, Seamus O'Reilly, as a back-yard operation, at the suggestion of Ciaran Quigley, the Waterford Co-op quality control manager. A system was devised, which was sent to Moorepark for a period of testing...... It is currently working in the Q C laboratory of the Waterford Co-op at Dungarvan. It is now on the market, under the name 'Aplin', and is produced by Orme Engineering ltd, under which banner Seamus O'Reilly is now trading, having left his previous employers.

Unfortunately there is some evidence that while the system was on trial at Moorepark, it was seen by technicians of one of the major firms which make the instrumentation to do the second of the two tasks listed above. A remarkably similar prototype was produced and no doubt soon will be on the market.

This illustrates the need for security....there is a need to 'keep it dark', and employ a good patent agent....

Septtember 2 1975

Although the traditional internal combustion engine, with 100 years of development behind it, is difficult to beat with mobile power-source technology, Ford is moving ahead with Sterling engine research in collaboration with Philips (Holland). The rights to the Sterling engine are owned by Philips. Ford has taken up half-million dollar grant from the US Energy R and D Administration to design Sterling engines in the 80-100 HP range. Already a 170 HP engine has been run in a Ford Torino.

Philips are interested in the potential of the Sterling to work in conjunction with a high energy-density source of stored heat: latent heat of fusion of eutectic mixtures of salts. Ten times he storage capacity of lead accumulators is claimed to be possible.

Such a system would of course produce no pollutant exhaust gases. An extra-large radiator is required, and very efficient piston seals. Despite these apparent snags, the fact that Ford is taking an interest suggests that the Sterling engine may have a future.

June 15 1976

Three documents have come to hand in recent weeks, all of which bear on the question of innovation in industry in Ireland, with particular reference to the role of the State and semi-State bodies.

There are two from the Science Policy Research Unit of the UCD Economics Department: 'Innovation in Ireland - Case Studies' (Dermot O'Doherty) and 'Technology Transfer' (John Kieran). The third is from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, by Thomas J Allen.

All three combine to suggest an undue dependence on foreign competitors for imported innovatory ideas. The MIT paper, in particular, goes further and suggests that Irish firms make little or no use of the science-technology infrastructure which is available to them.

Professor Allen took a sample of 300 firms in 26 industries, selected in such a way as to concentrate on small firms where the technology transfer problem is at its most acute.

Data were obtained on 65 innovations which had taken place within the previous five years. These were associated with 140 'messages', ie component elements of the innovatory process having an identifiable origin. Of these 27% originated within the firm...

Of the messages coming from outside the firm, only 8% came via documentation, the remainder by personal contact....the classical Allen thesis...

No ideas whatever originated in universities....the State Research Institutes.....account for 2% of the messages.

The most frequent type of direct contact is with a firm in the same industry on the Continent (rather than in Britain); a typical scenario is a plant visit following a trade exhibition. This ease of access to continental firms Professor Allen sees as being due to the latter not seeing Ireland as a serious competitor. In proportion as Irish firms achieve successful penetration of the EEC market, this source of innovative 'signals' is likely to dry up.

No foreign subsidiaries were found to obtain any information from universities, research institutes, Government agencies or industry associations. These sources serve only Irish firms....though inadequately.

Innovations in Irish industry are twice as likely to relate to a process as to a product. In Irish-owned firms the ratio is four to one, while for foreign-owned firms it is one to one. This ratio is characterisic of 'mature' products where innovations are related primarily to production cost-cutting.......

Professor Allen recommends that attention be directed towards the easing of relevant personal contacts, before spending money on document retrieval or reprint services(19).....

Professor Allen has hard words to say about the IIRS. I quote: 'Several of the people who were interviewed.....volunteered their opinion of the IIRS. These were unanimously negative in their appraisal....of low quality and irrelevant to industry needs....inaccessible...' He goes on to say that it would be better to abandon the IIRS...

(I would regard the abandonment of the IIRS, for all its faults, as a disastrous step. There is evidence that it is reacting to Professor Alen's criticism and taking organised steps to get closer to....small industry by developing a network of Regional College bases....)

The Agricultural Institute comes out better, mainly through the links with food-processing, but only with firms which are already engaged in R and D. The barrier between it and the small firms he finds just as great as in the IIRS case.

Failure to breach this barrier....has resulted in over-concern of Institute staff with internally-generated projects of scientific interest, with a view, insome cases, to publication. He suggests tha this interest could be shifted by modifying the reward-system.....

Turning to the Universities, Professor Allen notes the existence of in Industrial Liaison Office scheme.....compares the scale of the effort with that in MIT, making allowance for relative staff sizes, and suggests that the scope of the Irish scheme is inadequate.

This report can only have a beneficial effect...

The O'Doherty study analyses from within what Allen has seen as an outsider, though in this case there is a creaming process, in that the eight cases studied were those which won the Innovation Awards in 1970 and 71.... The firms were: Bord na Mona, Erin Foods, Gouldings, Harrington and Goodlass Wall, Irish Ropes, Loctite (Ireland) and Irish Board Mills. Loctite won two awards. All had in-house R and D; in no case was interaction with the IIRS or the universities of major relevance, though the IIRS was leaned upon to some extent for technical assistance.

In all cases science had high status; in three cases this was reflected in the composition of the Board. The 4-6 man team around an innovating project-leader appears to be the norm.

Dermot O'Doherty concludes by pointing out the need for evaluation in depth of the existing system of State support for industrial R and D, confirming the conclusions of Allen by a different route.... None of O'Doherty's firms used university people as consulants.....the university image as seen from the standpoint of innovating industry is bad.

John Kiernan's study takes a sample of 20 firms, self-selected via an interest in joint ventures, and comes to conclusions similar to those of O'Doherty and Allen.... He calls for tax concessions, constraints on foreign firms such as to force R and D location here, centralisation of 'technology transfer activities' (these he lists as the IDA Joint Venture Section, IIRS Licencing, CTT New Product Development Group, the National Manpower Service Skilled Emigrant Unit, etc), plus a linkage into venture finance.

Is it too much to ask....that some of the people who are actually in the front line of technology transfer activity be involved in policy development, to an extent greater than simply answering questionnaires? Otherwise, technologists will start to react positively against being regarded as laboratory animals for economists and sociologists.


1. The primary concern of the National Science Council in these early days was deciding which university departments to fund.

2. See Chapter 4.4 (Agriculture, 1/7/70) for an account of this innovatory attempt to re-introduce a traditional product.

3. See Chapter 1.3 (The Educational System).

4. Thorstein Veblen's 'Theory of the Leisure Class' is one of the classics of American radical-democratic thinking.

5. The introduction of free secondary education, by Donogh O'Malley when Minister for Education, by the way it was managed had the effect of bolstering the power of the religious organisations of various denominations which controlled the academic-orientated private sector of second-level education, and undermining the status of the technology-orientated public sector managed by the Local Authorities. See Chapter 1.3.

6. This agency, now ne-named and partially democratised as Udaras na Gaeltachta, has the task of generating industrial employment in the Irish-speaking parts of the country.

7. I cannot trace the occasion of this intervention by the Deputy Director of the IIRS; it could have been in response to this column, or possibly Professor Allen of MIT (qv).

8. See Chapter 1.2 (Structures and Institutions).

9. The 'Aerosol Valve Saga' illustrates the dangers of allowing 'technology push' to dominate 'market pull' in allocating financial resources for the development of products.

10. One of a series of reports analysing the reasons for the disparity in employment levels between Britain and Northern Ireland. It is regrettable that no Dublin Government ever saw fit to produce any reports outlining the creative potential of an all-Ireland economy, taking advantage of complementary factors among Northern and Southern physical and human resources. This task was left, by default, to the radical activists, who lacked the resources or expertise to do the job convincingly. The neglect of Northern opportunities by successive Dublin Governments has allowed the British to continue the pretence that the Northern Ireland problem is primarily one of internal security within the UK, rather than one of emergence of a united Irish nation-state in an acceptable secular democratic form.

11. The major unrealised resource within the Irish educational system is the active 30-40 year old cohort who have decided that they are not in line for promotion within the academic system. Such people need to make the transition into applied rresearch, consultancy and active industrial innovation work, inspiring cohorts of students in this direction. This 30-40 cohort currently dominates the Regional Colleges of Technology, a decade after the first round of recruitment.

12. See Chapters 2.1 and 2.3 for some more material on this theme.

13. See Chapter 1.1.

14. It finally took shape in 1980 as the Dublin embodiment of the National Institute of Higher Education, as previously set up in Limerick. See Chapter 1.3.

15. This link commenced with an MSc in Metallurgy tailored by TCD to suit SPS staff (world-wide). This was a bold concept; Garrett Scaife was the prime mover. It was successful as far as it went, but was not repeated, as it strained the academic resources, being under-budgeted. Subsequently Dr Paul Wallace, Director of the SPS Laboratories, spent a period in the TCD Mechanical Engineering Chair.

16. It did not quite work out this way; see the Epilogue for an account of how the TCD Applied Research Consultancy Group did develop with some degree of success in the period 1976-80.

17. This eventially spun off as Mentec ltd, on the initiative of Dr Michael Peirce, who resigned from the TCD academic staff to become Managing Director.

18. See Chapter 3.5 (Bio-engineering) for more on this and related themes.

19. See Chapter 5.2 (Scientific and Technological Information) for a development of this theme.

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