April - June 1999
Measuring the Mechanical Properties of Materials
Budget Allocation in Large R&D Organizations:
Distributing Funds for Continuing Success
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redicting how materials behave under stress is difficult, especially when only a small specimen or thin film is available for testing. One technique involves using an "indentor" to poke a probe into the material while accurately measuring the penetration depth and the force exerted. But analytical methods for inferring mechanical properties from such measurements are generally not reliable; and they cannot handle "graded" materials in which the composition varies with depth to provide variations of properties such as stiffness and resistance to excessive deformation. Now researchers affiliated with the Energy Laboratory have developed methods that perform such analyses in conjunction with a new generation of microindentors and nanoindentors. The indentor takes clear, continuous measurements of how penetration depth relates to applied force; and the analytical method translates those measurements into an unambiguous set of properties describing the specimen being tested. Based on this research, Instron Corporation is developing an instrument for analyzing homogeneous materials and is also incorporating the method for graded materials. This technology should make possible quick quality-control and materials inspections at manufacturing plants, remote inspections of surfaces in nuclear power plants, and development of damage-resistant graded materials for uses ranging from dental implants to tank armor. The MIT researchers are now using the technology to develop new surface coatings that are unusually resistant to cracking and damage.
anagers of R&D in large organizations generally divide up their total budget based on the relative merit of individual projects. But Energy Laboratory research suggests that they should also focus on the different phases of research going on in their program--for example, basic research, applied research, and development. A new system dynamics model can show them how to ensure that each phase receives sufficient funding to yield a steady flow of projects toward commercialization. Given historical data on the behavior of projects in each phase--the average probability of success, the time required for completion, and the project cost--the model calculates the optimal allocation of funds among the phases and the number of products that will reach commercial readiness each year. The model can also quantify the effects of not following that allocation. For example, it shows that overfunding the final phase increases the number of products in the near term but decreases that number over the long term as output from the underfunded earlier phases dwindles. It can also quantify the potential benefits of making special investments, for example, in machinery to speed up productivity in one phase. Thus far, the researchers have demonstrated their model using publicly available data on R&D in the pharmaceutical industry. They are now working with US Department of Defense managers to study DOD budget allocation among aircraft-related projects.
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Last updated: 08/22/1999
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