Let's face it -- new product development always demands "courage under fire." And if there were a medal of honor in the category, complex new technologies like nanotech would surely qualify for being "above and beyond the call of duty." Still, with the current emphasis on advanced manufacturing for the American economy, there's never been a better time for action. After 20+ years in this business, I've gained some battlefield wisdom. Whether you're a nanotechnology company or a mainstream manufacturer looking to incorporate nanotechnology into products, these secret weapons can help you avoid some battlefield casualties.
1.Send out more scouts. It's hard to know when a technology and a product will find the perfect match. So nanotechnologists -- send samples, do product tests, whatever it takes to start the ball rolling. My R&D labs are constantly coating prospects' products, developing test protocols, trying something new to work through a compatibility or performance question. And manufacturers? Talk to as many people and companies as you can -- you may discover possibilities that weren't even be on your radar.
2. Meet with your generals. As I said, a buyer-vendor relationship doesn't really work in nanotechnology yet. A partnership that brings the top decision makers together is your best bet. Be sure it includes all the disciplines: R&D, Manufacturing, Marketing, and even some C-Level personnel make the best task force.
My deal-breaker? Having someone with control of the purse strings at the table. I've found that people without budgetary control are often focused on a successful project or process. People with bottom line responsibility insist on a successful product -- because that's where money invested delivers payback... or not.
3. Keep the battle plans flexible. Maybe you're a manufacturer who's accustomed to being a "buyer" working with "vendors." That may hold you back in the still-developing nanotechnology market. I've seen the best success from true partnerships, but we also see plenty of joint development, tech sharing, market sharing, and even licensing. There are many ways to win a market if you can adapt your battle plans.
4. Embrace guerilla warfare. It's fine to look for the big wins. Somebody needs to be chasing the silver bullet -- that wind-powered car battery that dances on the head of a pin. But you can gain ground with small skirmishes, too. There's likely to be a market-ready nanotechnology -- or two or three -- that could add incremental value tomorrow. For example, a Nanofilm self-cleaning film for automotive glass was "discovered" as a snow-shedding coating for solar panels and a fingerprint guard for sandblasted architectural glass.
5.Who's ready for hand-to-hand combat? Look for partners thinking beyond a "magical material." Be sure everyone has gotten out of the lab and faced the challenges required by the real world. There's a big difference between making batches of a formula in the lab, running it in a test environment and needing tanker loads for full production.
6. Never retreat. To quote Thomas Edison, one of the winning-est generals on the invention battlefield, "The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time." I couldn't agree more. So tweak, reformulate, rethink. Try another path, another formula, another idea. Always keep going -- it's the only way to get ahead.
Scott E. Rickert is chief executive of Nanofilm, Ltd., located in Valley View, Ohio.