In This Issue
Engineering Partnerships
September 1, 1996 Volume 26 Issue 3/4
The Bridge, Volume 26, Number 3/4, Fall-Winter 1996

Trends in Engineering and Science: An Industry View

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Author: Robert W. Galvin

From increased student interest in engineering, to the use of science road maps, the next decade promises a host of new developments and opportunities.

Engineers know better than anyone the significance of systems. A fundamental system, of course, is society itself, which is the context within which collaboration among universities, government, and industry occurs. Society is a grand and dynamic system. It is grand because of its size and complexity. It is dynamic because it is always changing, often because of science and technology.

A system is always composed of subsystems. Society's subsystems include universities, which have primary responsibility for advanced training and research; government, which sets the rules and provides the resources for much of the R&D enterprise; and industry, the engine of economic growth.

Industry is the subsystem of society whose purpose is to honorably serve customers at a profit. As such, industry is the only wealth-creating entity in society. It creates the wealth that allows us to afford that which government can facilitate and/or distribute but cannot itself create. Universities, through their supreme contribution to the development of knowledge, help make wealth creation possible.

To repeat: The principal objective of industry is to serve customers. We are not here to serve government. We are not here to serve universities, although they are clearly our much-appreciated colleagues. If we want the whole system to work well, we must appreciate each other and each other's primary objectives in a very constructive, open, and honorable way.

To this end, I am going to describe a number of developments, or trends, that I foresee occurring in the next decade or two. Much of this prognostication relates directly to how industry should position itself to work most effectively with academia and government, the other two members of the trilateral partnership that is the focus of today's discussion. Let me start with the following thesis: More U.S. students will choose to study engineering and science to a significant degree within the next 10 years because of what I call the "computer effect."

Why Study Engineering?
I have spent a lot of time recently with entering college freshmen, and I have asked the question, "Why did you choose to study engineering or science?" About three-quarters of them said it was because someone exposed them to a computer when they were very young. Many of them said that early experience convinced them they wanted to be a computer scientist. The other one-quarter said that they like to take things apart and put them together again. I respectfully suggest that in 10 to 15 years, we will begin to see a very significant, incremental increase in the number of students who study engineering or science in school. This will be a very positive development, in my opinion.

I also believe that in as few as 10 years, and certainly within the next 20 years, a few very large companies will begin to invest heavily in basic scientific research. This will be separate from public support of basic research in U.S. universities and government research labs, which I believe should be liberal. Only the wealthiest corporations will do this--those with sales in the multi-hundred-billion-dollar range. My company, Motorola, will be one of them; there will be a few others--companies like IBM and Hewlett-Packard.

Let me touch briefly on several other developments I foresee occurring over the next decade.

  • We should expect other nations to produce notable achievements in science, thus stimulating competitive juices in the U.S. R&D enterprise. I do not know in what fields this will occur. It's going to be a surprise.
  • There will be a substantial increase in the number of crossdisciplinary engineering teams. The extent and focus of this type of work will vary in terms of how industry, government, and the universities distribute their resources among themselves.
  • More and more tools of engineering, and engineering manufacturing processes, will be adapted for use in the laboratory and will, as a result, speed progress in scientific research. We are beginning to see examples of this already.
  • The concept of "science road maps" will be embraced and will foster more public and private investment in science and engineering.

Let me expand on this last point. Road maps, as many of you know, are being used as a planning tool in some industries. A few companies have very sophisticated engineering road maps, which are much more useful than the old-fashioned checklists that people have used so wisely in the past. I think road maps are going to be absolutely crucial to the future of engineering, in large part because they provide an opportunity to systematize and prioritize.

The semiconductor industry uses road maps to great advantage. I believe the same approach is doable in physics, in chemistry, and in biology. It would have a gigantic impact, in my judgment, by helping policymakers and the public better understand what our combined roles are in generating scientific knowledge, developing useful technologies, and applying these technologies through engineering.

I also believe that developments in science, more than ever before, will provide opportunities for engineering and engineering-based companies. Engineering opportunities, in turn, will bring productivity growth on a global scale. Thus, in a self-reinforcing way, this creation of wealth is going to make it possible for governments and universities to afford larger investments in engineering and science.

I predict that more R&D consortia, focused on both engineering and science, will succeed. The costs, risks, and pace of R&D will continue to require creative collaborations involving industry, universities, and government. SEMATECH is one good example of what is possible. There are many more. We are indeed lucky that the business culture in America allows competitors to work honorably and enthusiastically together to achieve significant mutual benefit.

Despite the end of the Cold War and significant cuts in the Department of Defense (DOD) budget, defense-related technology development will remain important to the United States. Among other areas of opportunity, DOD will increasingly look to leverage the commercial R&D base as well as support research at universities and government labs that complements the private sector's efforts in precompetitive/generic research. The United States will be spending a lot of money for science for defense for decades to come.

I feel certain that engineers, especially American engineers, are going to be evident increasingly in entrepreneurial roles. This trend will be driven partly by what industry is learning about the importance of establishing more direct connections between engineers in the laboratory and customers out in the real world. More and more, the needs of customers must direct engineering efforts.

I also believe that standards will assume an ever more determinative role in engineering, just as engineering will influence the development of standards more intensely. This will require a lot of cooperation between government and industry. Universities will play a role in the internationalization of standards.

In the next 10 years, design for the environment will consume a large measure of engineering attention. In industry, especially, we will have to find a way of taking back everything we put on the market. We are working, of course, to learn how to do that. The Europeans are a substantial step ahead of us in this regard, however.

Finally, some balance must be struck between, on the one hand, the growing public disposition that government funding of science and engineering research should have a more apparent connection to society's needs and, on the other, the fundamental principle that there are important but not immediately apparent benefits of the truly basic research conducted by government and university labs. Both views are valid and both must be accommodated.

About the Author:Robert W. Galvin is chairman of the Executive Committee at Motorola. This paper is adapted from remarks he made 3 October during the symposium Industry-University-Government Cooperation for U.S. Technological Leadership in the 21st Century, part of the 1996 NAE Annual Meeting.