Saturday, June 23, 2018
Publication Date: 07/1/2007
Archive >  July 2007 Issue >  Tech-Op-Ed > 

Looking for the "Eureka Moment"
JacobFattal, Publisher
There once was a time when the U.S. was the manufacturing giant of the world, with such a muscular factory base that it was able to supply and arm most of the Western World. While no longer the world's giant — we certainly have to take a back seat to China and other Pacific Rim nations for sheer volume of production — there is still a significant amount of manufacturing done in the good old U.S.A. Today, the majority of such manufacture consists of high-reliability systems for medicine and the military, but there are many products that have to meet difficult environmental standards for use in industry and commerce.

There are several reasons why military, medical and aerospace still rely on U.S.-made hardware. Reliability is a big one, especially with the still unproven track record for lead-free products. The military in particular needs stuff that will last a long time. Good case in point is the B-52 bomber, still in service after 50 years, because no one has come up with a design that does its job any better. Oh sure, today's B-52 has been monumentally upgraded with cutting-edge electronics, and engines, and it's doubtful if much of the original metalwork still remains in any of the aircraft. The design was a sound one to begin with, and nothing has happened to change that. Possibly for the same reasons, Boeing has been outstripping Airbus in sales, not only for the new yet-to-be-delivered Dreamliner, but for standard old-timers like the 737, 747, 757, etc. that still do the job, but once again with cutting-edge avionics and electronics.

Most importantly, America continues to be the world's primary source of technological innovation — the very formula that brought us to the forefront during the Industrial Revolution and is still the fuel for our economy. But it's often a difficult struggle to maintain this leadership. The government keeps cutting back on aid for R&D, offering ridiculous tax credits for one year when a company spends a great deal of money on much-needed R&D. A good friend of industry, William A. Wulf, recently left his post as head of the National Academy of Engineering to go out into the world of private enterprise once again. He is actively spreading his gospel of the need for an "Ecology of Innovation", something that is sadly lacking in many companies today.

Wulf talks about the constant change that's needed, and that what works today will probably not work tomorrow. His doctrine is like a breath of fresh air, but not everyone is listening. He feels that the biggest reward for innovation is not financial or the patent, but simply in knowing that you have solved a problem with a new idea — what he calls the "Eureka Moment." What we need now in the U.S. is a virtual flood of Eureka Moments, all of them pointing to our next great upsurge in domestic manufacturing. Our workers may not be the cheapest in the world, but they certainly rate among the best in the world. Now it's up to us to keep them busy.  \par

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