Is genuine product R&D under threat?

By Kelly Whalley.

We live in a very fast-paced world where communication and knowledge transfer are instant but where longevity and time for considered thought are becoming more of a luxury. One where ‘band wagons’ rather than directions of travel seem to be the norm for a world with a short attention span. Where does that leave manufacturing businesses with their long, expensive production lines? How do manufacturers respond to customers’ needs when the avenues for R&D are so numerous and potentially short-lived?

The Construction industry has often been branded as archaic, old fashioned and slow to respond and in many cases it has fought back by bringing in new systems or investing in apps and technology.  Becoming more agile is one thing, but you can’t get away from the fact that genuine R&D to produce a ‘game changing’ product needs time, thought and a guaranteed return on investment. Does this mean that genuine product development in an industry like construction is actually under threat and is more likely to be replaced by gimmicks or service level changes which can be implemented more quickly?

To try to respond to some of the major priorities of our current society such as energy demand, water management and reducing C02 emissions we need really useful, well thought out, feasible and long-term solutions.  They won’t be solved by an app. Do customers and the industry still have the patience for genuine product development?  Manufacturers now more than ever need to take a step back from the front line of endless streams of information which bombard us and actually look at the whole picture of where the market is going.  By resisting the temptation to respond to every trend and taking control back to focus on one or two specific developments or ideas which are founded in deeper reasoning, real innovation will come through which genuinely moves the industry forward.

Perhaps some of the characteristics which come with the labels ‘old fashioned’ or ‘slow’ aren’t so bad and some areas such as R&D still need to be given time for thought and planning.  R&D can be a huge drain on resources and by trying to respond to every whim and trend, the resulting products will never have the time to generate the return, making R&D the first area to be cut by cost-conscious Boards.  What the next industry-shaping product/s will be – we can only guess, but unless we are able to resist the temptation of delivering an instant response to everything, no real progress will be made.

Kelly Whalley; kelly.whalley@kingspan.com

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