Viewpoint: Not-necessarily-intuitive fundamentals

What's so great about a garment supplier expanding its product line? Or a patent issued for an antistatic boot? On the surface, and in the business world at large, such happenings may appear to warrant only casual notice. Yet both appear within these pages this month, one of them on page 1.

Here's why: In the case of the boot [see Inventor's Corner, pg 25], it solves a problem caused when cleanroom workers wear rubber-soled shoes inside the boots (something they frequently do), leaving their bodies ungrounded and insulated from the floor. The boot provides electric contact with the worker's body and a subsequent channel for electrostatic discharge.

Regarding the garment supplier [see “Disposable apparel makers suit up for head-to-toe supplier business,” page 1], the Kimberly-Clark acquisition of Safeskin marks what we believe will prove to be a trend of disposables manufacturers to provide one-stop/one-vendor shopping. Yet this supplier strategy emerges—and is likely to succeed—at a time when end users and buyers contend that such positioning will have no impact on the way they buy. They contend that their goal will continue to be finding the products they need at the best price or the service level they require.

What's great about these two seemingly unrelated events is their nature: they are fundamental in both a business and a technology sense. Beyond their fundamental nature, however, is the fact that they are so in a way that is not necessarily intuitive.

For example, both ESD and cleanroom boots have coexisted for decades. But it wasn't until late December 1999 that the patent was granted for an antistatic boot having a conductive upper. The text of the patent includes references dating back to 1968, referring perhaps to some early attempt at controlling either static or footborne contamination. During the intervening years, no doubt many people studied, analyzed, observed and otherwise continued to characterize ESD problems, tracing them all the way to the rubber soles on the shoes of the cleanroom workers wearing the boots, leading to the invention of the boot shown on page 26.

The quest of disposable garment suppliers to become one-stop shops is equally fundamental and not necessarily intuitive. It's fundamental in the sense that such suppliers group themselves under the heading of “garment” rather than such subcategtories as gloves, smocks, or masks. It's not intuitive, however, in the sense that customers are not asking for it. Yet the strategy is likely to succeed. Given the speed of business today, “service level” may increasingly trump “price” on a buyer's list of priorities: when you absolutely need something on short notice, you'll spend little time shopping for it. And you'll spend even less time looking for new suppliers. The big, broad supplier is likely to come first to mind.

The point is that the next technology advance as well as the next tactic that improves your business might also concern something quite basic. Whether your work involves something as specific as antistatic boots or as general as garments, keep your eye on the fundamentals. Every advance counts.

Click here to enlarge image

George D. Miller
Editorial Director


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