Original Date: 08/26/1996
Revision Date: 01/18/2007
Best Practice : Research and Development
Prior to 1992, Weirton Steel Corporation (WSC) lacked methods to formally control costs, to assess the relative merits of starting new R&D projects, or to continue those already in process. Further, WSC’s R&D project-schedule performance tracking was informal; research and development projects were funded solely by WSC; and significant inefficiencies existed in the R&D process due to the lack of significant computer modeling capability. At that time, WEIRTEC, the company's R&D organization, implemented an extensive program of R&D cost control and efficiency-enhancing measures to correct the previous problems.
A key action taken by WEIRTEC was the implementation of the stage-gate process. The process established a set of stage-gates (or milestones) at key points in the life of each R&D project. Each stage-gate had a specific set of deliverables and responsibilities that had to be met before a project was allowed to proceed to the next level. Representatives of general management, operations, engineering, WEIRTEC, marketing, and other functions defined responsibilities at each stage-gate, and senior management approval of expenditures and responsibilities was required. Table 2-1 presents a list of criteria used by WEIRTEC to evaluate and rank the potential attractiveness of proposed R&D projects prior to expending significant company funds.
A second element, implemented by WEIRTEC in the formal control of R&D expenditures, was the formulation of both international and domestic alliances with other companies to more effectively leverage the technology resources of WSC. The alliances also expanded the scope and reach of available technology. The alliance concept now provides collaborative application development with WSC customers, international companies, and even other North American steel producers through the American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI).
Computer modeling has helped compress the time and resources required for process and product engineering. In some cases, such as high-speed forming of light gauge metal, computer modeling has proven to be the only cost effective engineering and testing method for meeting requirements that are beyond traditional engineering design techniques.
Further control of the company's R&D expenditures was achieved by using Microsoft Project software as a management tool to improve the planning and tracking of all development activities. This customized software incorporates project timelines, deliverables, and required resources, as well as project tracking, technical notes, and report generation.
Table 2-1. Developing a Technology Strategy
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