INSIDE CI: Partnering for Progress
It used to be that the rest of the world looked to the U.S. for the newest technology advances. Lately, however, our foothold as the leader in the global technology race has been slipping. I've recently participated in a number of discussions in which someone noted how one cutting-edge technology or another was in widespread use in Europe and/or Asia, yet has achieved minimal or no acceptance within the U.S. Whether the context is medical (e.g., ceramic-on-ceramic hip joints), automotive (e.g., next-generation diesel engines), manufacturing (e.g., automated production systems) or some other area, virtually everyone has begun to recognize that we are falling behind-and putting our job market and our entire economy at risk as a result.
So what can we do to change the situation? Obviously, we can't force the acceptance of technologies such as ceramic-on-ceramic hip joints or next-generation diesel engines on consumers. But from a manufacturing perspective, there are steps we can take to help secure our future in high-tech applications. One crucial step is more collaboration between industry and government to help drive promising new technologies from initial R&D to commercialization.
The U.S. Advanced Ceramics Association (USACA) recently acknowledged the need for such collaboration through the creation of three new initiatives-Ceramic Materials for Energy Independence, Advanced Ceramics Defense Technology Transition, and USACA Defense and NASA Ultra-High-Temperature Ceramics-designed to accelerate the development of advanced ceramic materials. (See pp. 42-45 in this issue.) According to Jay Morrison, CMC Group Leader of Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. and chair of USACA's Ceramic Materials for Energy Independence Committee, much of today's R&D in the U.S. is "being pursued independently, and there's very little, if any, crosscutting between the different applications. As a result, all of the work is disjointed, and very little progress is being made in each area. What's needed is an organization that has a broad perspective...to bring these efforts together so that each program can build on the successes of the others."
So far, there appears to be a significant amount of interest in the industry for these initiatives. However, interest alone will push the initiatives only so far. Without a strong commitment to work together and share information, ceramic manufacturers are not likely to see much progress. From contributing ideas and information for roadmaps, to sharing success stories and examples of crosscutting technologies with the industry and with government agencies, industry participation will be crucial to the success of these efforts.
It's easy to look at a situation and ask, "Why doesn't someone do something about this?" It's much more difficult to step up to the plate. USACA's new initiatives are an important first step in creating new opportunities for ceramics and driving technology advances in the U.S. But it's up to each company-and each individual-to maintain that forward momentum by taking an active role.