Team-based approach integrates technologies into products

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Oct. 28, 2004 – Why would Lockheed Martin, with 50,000 scientists and engineers, more software engineers than Microsoft, and with more than 900 facilities worldwide, make establishing partnerships a priority? The answer is simple and lies within our motto: “We never forget who we’re working for,” which means we try to provide our customers with the best technology solutions possible at an affordable price.

While we develop technology in house, we are primarily a systems integrator, which makes purchasing technology critical to our success. Over the past several years, we have expanded from a traditional subcontracting approach to a team-based one.

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In general, we start by selecting the best technology or product available and then may enter into a teaming agreement with the provider. Advantages to our customers include better technical solutions, improved timelines and, often, higher quality and lower cost.

This partnership approach is even more important in a technology area such as nanotechnology where advances are being made rapidly, worldwide and in many different areas, with carbon nanotubes, smart materials and quantum dots to name but a few.

Intellectual property and patents in nanotechnology are growing at an astonishing rate. It would be virtually impossible for any highly diverse company, regardless of size, to develop all of its nanotechnology products internally. Partnering with small businesses, universities and government laboratories becomes a necessity. We need partners to help identify and develop novel nanotechnology solutions and to help the transition of the technology to complete systems.

A side benefit, not to be overlooked, is the increased creative thinking and inventions that arise when different companies, cultures and expertise join forces.

What constitutes the right nanotechnology partners? Finding potential partners with the right technology thrust areas is likely the easiest task. The more difficult ones deal with overall performance: quality, cost and delivery.

Does the company have the necessary quality and process controls in place? Is the technology sufficiently mature, can it be easily integrated into our products, systems and platforms, and will it still work in the environments of our deployed systems? Is there a cost-effective path to scaled up manufacturing?

Has the company demonstrated solid past performance, is it expected to survive long term, and does the management team have a real desire to enter into a long-term partnership? And, in our case, are the necessary security and other customer requirements met? These are just a few of the questions we consider when selecting a nanotechnology partner.

It may be a daunting task for a small nanotechnology company to approach and penetrate a large, geographically dispersed company such as Lockheed Martin. There are no easy answers here. Unless contacts are already well established, contacting the corporate technology office or the local sourcing representative is a good start. Recognize that it will take time to find and grow relationships.

For our part, we need to have the right expectations. Nanotechnology offers exciting new capabilities for our customers, yet, in many ways, it represents brand new technologies. As such, many technical and other hurdles, such as societal, can be expected.

There will be setbacks as we learn more about the science occurring at the device physics level, as we integrate and package the technology, as we strive to measure nanoscale parameters in devices and subsystems and as we scale up in manufacturing.

In other terms, we can expect setbacks as we work to bridge that “valley of death” between fundamental research and development and commercially available products. Payoffs from a nanotechnology partnership may, therefore, be long-term, and we need to set our expectations accordingly.

Partnerships are meant to be just that, two or more organizations joining forces for the mutual benefit of both parties and the ultimate benefit of their customers. Characteristics that nurture long-term relationships are well known and include participation, trust, ownership, commitment, understanding, mutual interest and the sharing of risks and rewards.

Partnerships can be weakened or destroyed when one or more parties violate these characteristics. In the rapidly exploding nanotechnology area, for example, it is essential that intellectual property rights be agreed to up front in a way that is fair to all parties. And, when technological and other challenges arise, partners must take mutual ownership of problems and apply their complementary strengths to address weaknesses. Otherwise, the teaming aspect of the relationship rapidly deteriorates.

Clearly, establishing and performing on good partnerships takes a lot of time and energy. However, when executed properly, the right partnerships can result in substantial benefits for all parties, including the all-important, winning new business.

It can also result in best value and mission success on all programs, a win for everyone, including our customers.


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