Year

1984

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

Department of History and Philosophy of Science

Abstract

This thesis provides an analysis of technology development activities in the Australian manufacturing industry. This study has been undertaken in the light of growing concern over the lack of technological competitiveness in Australian industry. It is intended as a contribution towards improving understanding of the structure, effectiveness and limitations of inventive activity in Australian industry.

Investment in research and development and technical innovation is an important area of decision making for both R&D managers and government policy makers. The cost of such investment has to be weighed against the potential benefits, and the likelihood of achieving them, as well as against other investment alternatives available to a firm. However. both theoretical and empirical studies have emphasised the important role of technological innovation in industrial growth.

Science policy makers have emphasised the important role of government in encouraging and assisting industrial innovation in industry. Active participation of government is frequently required to provide adequate facilities for the growth of new technology enterprises. However, these policies will. be successful only if private firms recognize a need for developing technologies.

Existing theory on the generation of industrial innovations is quite immature. Many different results have been found, and different industrial systems respond differently under various circumstances. Some general similarities, however, have emerged. One major limitation of most previous studies of industrial innovation has been there reliance on case studies, or data drawn from a small number of firms. Nor has there been much attempt to understand the determinants of industrial innovation at the level of the firm and individual project.

This study aims to remedy these deficiencies by studying a wide range of determinants of the structure and operation of the R&D structure in Australian manufacturing industries. A sample of 273 private firms undertaking R&D, 585 proposed or current R&D projects, and 80 completed or on-going R&D projects were studied in detail.

This thesis begins with an assessment of theories and hypotheses pertaining to technological innovation and industrial development. In Chapter Two, the growth of the manufacturing sector in Australia and the influence of science and technology on its development has been examined for the period 1900 to 1968. The emergence of modern industrial research activity and its strength have been examined in order to provide a basis for assessing the present state and direction of industrial inventive activity.

R&D resource allocation examined only at the national level often provides a very limited picture of the real situation of the infrastructure of industrial R&D and inventive effort. Chapter Three attempts to trace the development in national industrial research and development (IR&D) effort from 1968/69 to 1981/82. In particular, the rate of public and private sector expenditure on R&D and technical knowhow purchase was examined. However, this study went far beyond aggregated national levels to analyse IR&D activity at disaggregated firm and project levels. This allowed a detailed identification of the external and internal factors affecting a firm's technological activity.

The behaviour of different industry classes in R&D investment, the institutional differences in undertaking R&D activity, the influence of different compositions of R&D activity on industrial performance. management attitudes and strategies towards selecting R&D activity and problems and constraints in developing R&D and technological innovations in industry can be studied by examining individual firm activities. A sample have been assessed by projects were surveyed.

Major findings of this thesis point to various deficiencies and strengths in the Australian R&D structure. Most industrial activity is based on a narrow concept of technological development and on short-term market strategies. Many companies have achieved a relatively stable and secure industrial position by such strategies but have neither sought nor been able to penetrate international markets and achieve the level of competitiveness which is needed for the long-term viable existence of a manufacturing sector in Australia.

From its inception, industrial research was moulded by short-term objectives and the constraints of a colonial economy and mentality. This conservatism with respect to technology was deeply rooted in most industrial firms, which were quite unwilling to adopt business strategies in which technological development had a place. The past twenty years has shown the development of a somewhat greater awareness of the role of technology in industrial development. However, resource allocation in most firms remained quite low and those who did invest in R&D. tended to allocate less than 1% of their resources to R&D. However, some small firms have allocated a larger proportion of their resources to R&D. Because of their size, however, these firms have a limited potential to reach the forefront in technology development often possessed only limited R&D facilities. Large firms nevertheless dominate R&D activity in industry.

Some industry classes such as chemicals, other machinery and equipment and transport equipment showed a much higher research intensity than others. However, no industry sector has shown a very strong orientation towards high technology development strategies or a high research intensity.

The composition of R&D activity in this sample suggests that different inventive activity played a significant role in different industries. New product development is the dominant innovative activity of most firms. The variations are related to different business strategies, but are all driven more by market needs than technological needs. A very high level of accuracy in the estimation of project costs and duration has been discovered, much higher than in other countries. However. this is attributed more to the modesty of the technology development strategies, rather than management brilliance.

Some of the findings of this study raise important implications for innovation theory and government policy formulation. The concentration of R&D activity in new product development and the variation of research orientation and capability with firm size suggests new perspectives on appropriate roles for government in support and promotion of technology development.

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