NSF to fund new product center

An MIT proposal to establish a Center for Competitive Product Development has been accepted by the National Science Foundation, which will provide more than $12 million over the next five years to support the joint School of Engineering-Sloan School of Management effort.

A total of 117 teams applied for the fiscal '96 round of NSF awards. MIT and three others were selected.

Professor Warren P. Seering of mechanical engineering, who will direct the new center, said it will "develop, test, refine and disseminate methods for interpreting the information and making the decisions required for bringing a successful product to the market. This includes such factors as planning technology development over time to match market opportunities, aligning product development risks with corporate capabilities, translating consumer preferences into technical specifications, and strategic design of supplier networks.

"The center will focus on the large range of issues which most engineering faculty see as management issues and which most management faculty see as primarily engineering issues," Professor Seering said.

Engineering Managers from Xerox, Ford and ITT Industries worked with the MIT team to assemble the proposal. These three companies will lead the center's industrial consortium.

The center will also develop texts and course offerings, both graduate and undergraduate, "thus preparing the next generation of engineers to improve the competitiveness of their chosen companies in world markets," Professor Seering said. The materials and courses also will be offered to engineers and managers working in industry.

Other investigators at the center will be Professors John R. Hauser, the Kirin Professor of Marketing at the Sloan School, who will be co-director of the center; Don P. Clausing of mechanical engineering; Steven D. Eppinger of Sloan; Charles H. Fine of Sloan; Woodie C. Flowers, the Pappalardo Professor of Mechanical Engineering; Rebecca Henderson of Sloan; Earll Murman, head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics; Kevin N. Otto, the Robert N. Noyce Professor in Mechanical Engineering; Emanuel M. Sachs of mechanical engineering; Anna C. Thornton of mechanical engineering; Glen L. Urban, dean of the Sloan School; David R. Wallace of mechanical engineering; and Daniel E. Whitney, senior research scientist at the Center for Technology Policy and Industrial Development.

Other ERCs announced last week by the NSF are at the University of Southern California (Integrated Media Systems Center), the University of Michigan (Center for Reconfigurable Machining Systems) and the University of Washington (Engineered Biomaterials). Based on periodic progress reviews, ERCs may receive NSF funding for up to 11 years, the NSF said. ERCs emphasize the integration of education programs with research activities which, with input from industry, "provide new or improved undergraduate and graduate student curricula, research opportunities, and internships with corporate sponsors and collaborative partners," the NSF announcement said.

The new center is the second ERC to be funded by NSF at the Institute. The other is the Biotechnology Process Engineering Center, established in 1985 as a School of Engineering interdepartmental facility. It has been headed since then by Institute Professor Daniel I.C. Wang of chemical engineering.

The NSF was created as an independent federal agency in 1950. It is charged with promoting the progress of all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports both research and education through competitive grants to about 2,000 universities and other institutions. It receives some 60,000 research proposals each year.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 1996.

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