LETTERS TO OVERSEA READERS.
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No. 2.—Industrial Research.
SOME OF my readers have probably noticed the announcement to the effect that there is to be formed almost immediately a Research Association of the British Motor and Allied Manufacturers, but I rather doubt whether many of them will have troubled to realize the full significance of this move. Research as eppiied to industry is a Very expensive Matter. When a single firm undertakes it, it means an expenditure on a. scale which can hardly help being reflected in the price of that firm's products. There are very few firms of such a magnitude as to be able really to undertake research upon an adequate scale. They may tackle one or two important problems, but • they must leave many others untouched. Furthetmore, when one firm goes in for research, the results obtained are scrupulously guarded and withheld as long as possible from all that firm's competitors.Consequently, the motor user either has,to pay more for the article which has been improved by research or else to buy something at a lower price, the design and construction of which is inferior, inasmuch as the results oft-he investigations are not incorporated
in it. .
The Significance of Co-operation.
Now, when all the leading firms of the industry get together and go in for research, the significance of the whole movement is quite different. The field covered can be very much enlarged because the resources of all the various firms collaborating together are pooled. Moreover, when this joint research leads to any valuable result, that result is immediately available to every one of the co-operating firms. The cost of the work when spread over the whole of the . -products of a considerable industry cannot he so great as to make any material difference in the cost of production , of each vehicle.Consequently, from the user's standpoint, joint research by manufacturers is much preferable to individual re-search because it ireproves the general standard of excellence of all the various competitive vehicles and it does so without putting up the cost of the individual vehicle by any appreciable amount. Also,. it brings many brains to bear on the whole problem, with the result that the money expended upon research is well spent and that an undue proportion of it does not go to the elucidation of some one single problem,
A Healthy Sign.
Tlie formation of a Research 'Association by the British motor industry is, therefore, a very healthy sign from the standpoint of the motor user: It shows a material change from the old principle of individualism ; a willingness to share results in the interests of the industry as a whole; a desire to improve the standard of the products of the industry and not merely to exalt one concern to the comparative detriment of its competitors. It indicates also a realization of the economy that results from cooperation. It seems to show that, if co-operation is not adopted in all its forms and-immediately by the British motor industry, it is because there is some good reason for restraint and not because the subject has lacked consideration by manufacturers. Some forms of cooperation are very difficult of achievement, but there are times when co-operative principles have been turned down merely on account of petty jealousies. if such jealousies were in any way a prominent feature in the British motor industry at the moment, then we should not see co-operative research started, because the whole scheme is one which must in effect give the small manufacturer a better chance of competing on equal terms with the large. At the same time, if the large manufacturer withheld his support, the whole scheme would necessarily fall through. We have, therefore, evidence. of a spirit of generosity and a breadth of view among the leaders of the industry, and these are things from which the user must certainly benefit in the long run.
The Cost of Research.
Next, as to the cost of research. This might conceivably be so prohibitive that, while the principle would still appeal to the highly technical man, it might well be poor business from the commercial standpoint. The whole thing is, of course, something of a speeulation. The results achieved by research may be very great, or may be comparatively small, but when the cost is diVided among a number of firms the chances are very much in favour of good value being obtained for the money expended. It is impossible to say yet how much money the Motor Research Association will have at its disposal. Probably,its initial income will be something like 212,000 a year, rising in two or three years to an amount in the neighbourhood of £20,000. This would mean a big expenditure for an individual firm with a limited output, but, when it can be divided up among the whole of the products of an industry, the charge upon each vehicle is negligible. We can classify this charge as a sort of insurance premium, in return for which the holder is secured against ignorance of any new and valuable discovery or against inability to utilize that discovery because it is covered by patents held by sOmeone else.
The Government's Outlook.
Another very significant point about the whole move is that the Government is contributing quite a large proportion of the income of the Research Association. By so doing it encourages manufacturer's to improve their profits. This it does because it is recognized that the improvement will lead to enlarged markets for British vehicles. This result would not be achieved unless, at the same time, advantages of some sort or another were offered to the prospective buyer. We have, therefore, clear indication that the British Government, influenced, no doubt, by war experience, is convinced that research is highly desirable and will lead to 'accelerated improvement in the industry's produets, and therefore to an enlargement, of its oversee, markets, at which the Government aims because it wishes the industry to become-an increased employer of labour. We have; therefore, 1'i-roof of an enlightened policy adopted by the British Government in support. of British industry.
Finally, yet another significant point is that the motor industry is the first branch of the engineering trade to take advantage of the offer made by the Government and to make a practical start upon cooperative research upon a big scale. This seems to show that the motor industry is more up-to-date and more alive to the desirability of extending its oversee. Markets than are, at any rate, the great majority of the older branches of the engineering trades.