Posts about business

Open Source Seeds

I find the current status of government granted patents to be very flawed, including patenting life.

Plant Breeders Release First ‘Open Source Seeds’

A group of scientists and food activists is launching a campaign Thursday to change the rules that govern seeds. They’re releasing 29 new varieties of crops under a new “open source pledge” that’s intended to safeguard the ability of farmers, gardeners and plant breeders to share those seeds freely.

Irwin Goldman, a vegetable breeder at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, helped organize the campaign. It’s an attempt to restore the practice of open sharing that was the rule among plant breeders when he entered the profession more than 20 years ago.

Good for them. This needs to be supported. The crazy practices of seed companies shouldn’t be legal but they pay lots of cash to politicians and the corrupt politicians (which seems to be an awful lot of them) write bad policy and encourage bad regulation.

Even those administrators taking control of universities have subjugated the search for knowledge and improvement to seek monetary gain instead of what the universities used to prioritize. It is a shame and those that have distorted universities so much should be ashamed.

Initial efforts that lead to the bad place we find universities in now were to promote the adoption of university research. To do so they partnered with business in sensible ways. Then administrators saw money was being made and turned the priority into making money and if that meant restricting the benefits to society of university research so be it. This has created universities that have lost ethical foundations and have destroyed a big part of the value universities used to provide society.

Related: Open-Source Biotech (2006)Scientists Say Biotechnology Seed Companies Prevent Research (2009)The A to Z Guide to Political Interference in ScienceArduino: Open Source Programmable HardwareMoney Is Corrupting Our Political Process

Silicon Valley Shows Power of Global Science and Technology Workforce

Even with the challenges created by the culture in Washington DC against non-European foreigners the last 15 years Silicon Valley continues to prosper due to the talents of a pool of global science and engineering talent. Other countries continue to fumble the opportunity provided by the USA’s policies (largely a combination of security theater thinking and a lack of scientific literacy); and the strength of Silicon Valley’s ecosystem has proven resilient.

Software Is Reorganizing the World

an incredible 64% of the Valley’s scientists and engineers hail from outside the U.S., with 43.9% of its technology companies founded by emigrants.

5 things to know about the Silicon Valley economy

64 percent of college-educated professionals working in Silicon Valley science and engineering positions were born outside the U.S. as of 2011. That’s compared to the national average of 26 percent.

The Kauffman foundation’s recent study America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs: Then and Now shows evidence the anti-global culture in Washington DC is negatively impacting the economy in the USA.

The drop is even more pronounced in Silicon Valley, where the percentage of immigrant-founded startups declined from 52.4 percent to 43.9 percent.

The Immigrant Exodus: Why America Is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent, draws on the research to show that the United States is in the midst of a historically unprecedented halt in high-growth, immigrant-founded startups.

… launched a website — ImmigrantExodus.com — as a resource for journalists and a voice for immigrant entrepreneurs.

As I have written for years, I expected the USA’s relative position to decline. The huge advantages we had were not sustainable. But the very bad policies of the last 15 years have negatively impacted the USA. The only thing not making the results much worse is no strong competitors have stepped into the void created by the policies of the last 2 USA administrations. It isn’t easy to create a strong alternative for technology startups but the economic value of doing so is huge.

The USA has created the opportunity for others to grow much faster, now some just have to step into the void. Will Brazil, Norway, Korea, Chile, Malaysia, Finland, New Zealand, Singapore, Germany, India… step up and create conditions for entrepreneurial scientists and engineers? Each country has been doing some good things but also continue to miss many opportunities. Some countries also have more challenges to overcome – it is much easier if the economy is already rich (say in top 20 in the world), speaks English, has a strong science and technology workforce… The innovation stiffing legal system in place in the USA is absolutely horrible and presents a huge opportunity to anyone willing to stand up to the USA’s continuing pressure to force countries to burden themselves with equally bad (or even worse) policies (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership). It is possible to succeed with numerous weaknesses it just requires even more offsetting benefits to attract technology entrepreneurs.

Some things are probably absolutely required: rule of law, strong technology infrastructure (internet, etc.), good transportation links internationally, stable politically, freedom of expression (technology entrepreneurs expect to be able to try and say crazy things if you want to control what people say and publish that is very counter to the technology entrepreneurial spirit – especially around internet technology)…

Related: The Future is EngineeringUSA Losing Scientists and Engineers Educated in the USAScience and Engineering in Politics

Roominate: Inspiring Artists, Engineers and Visionaries

Roominate is a cool new toy created by 3 engineering students aimed at giving young engineers a way to learn, experiment and create. The 3 women used kickstarter to get the funds needed to launch their product. They raised $85,000 (the goal was $25,000).

We’re more than just a toy company. We want to inspire your daughters to be the great artists, engineers, architects, and visionaries of their generation. We intend to give them every tool to reach that potential.

Founders:

Bettina Chen: CalTech BS in Electrical Engineering, masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford.

Alice Brooks: MIT BS in Mechanical Engineering, currently at Stanford pursuing masters in Mechanical Engineering design.

Jennifer Kessler: Bachelor degree from University of Pennsylvania, currently an MBA student at Stanford.

This is yet another example of entrepreneurship shown by Standford students. The USA is hugely benefited by Stanford (along with a few other schools: MIT, Caltech, etc.). There is little a country can do that is as helpful economically as encouraging the type of entrepreneurship Standford does.

Related: Awesome Gifts for the Maker in Your LifeFootballs Providing Light to Those Without Electricity at HomeGirls Sweep Top Honors at Siemens Competition in Math, Science and TechnologyFix it Goo

Engineers Again Shown to Lead More Companies Than Other Disciplines

I have written previously about the fact that more S&P 500 CEO’s are engineering majors than any other discipline. The group putting out those studies have stopped doing so, unfortunately. There is a new study based on mining Facebook data and the results again show engineers doing very well.

I wish they provided data for the larger companies, but they don’t. They show a breakdown of 9,461 (CEO or founders) with a business undergraduate major and 9,334 with an engineering degree. For those with advanced degrees 3,337 have an engineering master’s or doctorate and 1,016 have an MBA.

In the latest (2008) data I have for S&P 500 CEO’s 22% were engineers. Engineers seem to make up under 5% of college graduates (based on my eyeballing of this Dept. of Education data). Business meanwhile seems to make up about 20% of the majors.

See more posts looking at science and engineering careers: Future Prospects for EngineersEngineering Again Dominates The Highest Paying College MajorsScience and Engineering in Global EconomicsCareer Prospect for Engineers Continues to Look Positive

Companies Sharing Engineering Resources Across the Globe

Swapping batteries for diesel engines

Car companies, like aircraft manufacturers, are sharing engineering skills across borders to speed up and cut the costs of technological development. It happened with Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. The American aircraft maker outsourced some of the engineering to Japanese suppliers, admitting that it does not have all the necessary expertise. Likewise, Toyota has agreed to work on hybrid trucks with Ford, and electric vehicles with Tesla, the Silicon Valley sports-car maker. BMW is working on improving the current generation of lithium-ion batteries with France’s Peugeot Citroën. Nissan, as well as joining forces with Renault, has joint projects with Daimler.

There are many reasons to pursue such efforts (as well as drawbacks). My belief is companies would rather not take on the complications of such partnerships but the advantages overcome those desires. The high cost of research into these efforts is a big part of what pushes such collaboration. Also once a company has success they often can build up quite an advantage. The costs of trying to engineer a different solution (that doesn’t violate someone’s patents) often makes buying that technology or partnering attractive.

I really like this webcast, from 2008, on Toyota’s engineering development program.

Related: Wave Disk Engine Could Increase Efficiency 5 Times59 MPG Toyota iQ Diesel Available in Europe (2008)Toyota Cultivating Engineering Talent

Engineers are the new Currency

Silicon Vally investor discusses keys to good investment companies: “Engineers are the new currency… having the right engineers that can innovate and deliver is absolutely vital to success… It takes a great team to help the entrepreneur develop”

The video also makes the point that what separates Silicon Valley is the engineering talent.

Related: S&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the TopEngineers Rule at HondaThe Google Way: Give Engineers RoomStatistics on Entrepreneurship

Cutting the Boarding Time of Planes in Half

I thought I wrote about this several years ago, but I guess I didn’t (I can’t find it, if I did). Experimental test of airplane boarding methods:

The Ste en method, on the other hand, orders the passengers in such a way that adjacent passengers in line are sitting in corresponding seats two rows apart from each other (e.g., 12A, 10A, 8A, 6A, etc.). This method trades a small number of aisle interferences at the front of the cabin, for the benefit of having multiple passengers stowing their luggage simultaneously. Other methods, such as Wilma and the Reverse Pyramid also realize parallel use of the aisle in a natural way as adjacent passengers are frequently sitting in widely separated rows.

We have seen experimentally that there is a marked difference in the time required to board an aircraft depending upon the boarding method used. The evidence strongly supports the heuristic argument from Ste en that methods that parallelize the boarding process by more efficiently utilizing the aisle (having more passengers stow their luggage simultaneously) will board more quickly than those that do not. The relative benefit of the application of this theory will grow with the length of the aircraft. Here, we used a 12-row mock airplane, but a more typical airplane with twice that number of rows will gain more by the implementation of parallelized boarding methods.

How this improvement scales with the cabin length is different for each method. For the Ste en method, the benefit will scale almost linearly. If the airplane is twice as long, the time savings will be nearly twice as much since the density of luggage-stowing passengers will remain the same and the boarding will still be maximally parallel. For Wilma and random boarding the benefit will not be as strong since the benefits of parallel boarding are randomly distributed along the length of the cabin instead of being regularly distributed.

I am not optimistic that airlines will even test out this method. People tend to think companies apply sensible, proven concepts and methods. But that is much less likely to be done than people think. The failure of many places to use simple queuing theory improvement (customers should form one line and be served the next available person not form many individual lines) is one example of failures by companies to apply decades old proven better methods. The poor adoption of multivariate designed experiments is another. Applying better ideas is a process that is not done very efficiently in business, health care, education or even science and engineering – in fact in any human endeavor. This is a waste that impacts each of us every day. It is also an opportunity for you to gain advantages just by applying all the good ideas lying around that others are ignoring. You need to test the ideas out in your setting (using the PDSA cycle in an organizational context a good method).

Related: Engineering the Boarding of AirplanesSuccessful Emergency Plane Landing in the Hudson RiverChecklists Save LivesImproving Engineering Education

S&P 500 CEO’s: Engineers Stay at the Top

2008 Data from Spencer Stuart on S&P 500 CEO shows once again more have undergraduate degrees in engineering than any other field, increasing to 22% of CEO’s this year.

Field
   
  
% of CEOs
2008
   
2007
   
2006
   
2005
Engineering 22 21 23 20
Economics 16 15 13 11
Business Administration 13 13 12 15
Accounting 9 8 8 7
Liberal Arts 6 6 8 9
No degree or no data 3 3


In 1990 Engineering majors accounted for 6% of the bachelor’s degrees in the USA (1970 5%, 1980 7%). Business accounted for 23% of the majors in 1990 (1970 14%, 1980 21%). Liberal arts 3% in 1980 (1970 1%, 1980 2%).

The report does not show the fields for the rest of the CEO’s. 39% of S&P CEOs have MBAs. 28% have other advanced degrees. The University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard tied for the most CEO’s with undergraduate degrees from their universities at 13. Princeton and the University of Texas had 9 and Stanford had 8.

While the CEO’s have engineering education backgrounds the work they have done is often in other functions. The top function that CEO’s that have worked in during their careers: Operations (42%), Finance (31%), Marketing (24%), Sales (17%), Engineering (11%).

Data for previous years is also from Spencer Stuart: S&P 500 CEOs are Engineering Graduates (2007 data) 2006 S&P 500 CEO Education StudyTop degree for S&P 500 CEOs? Engineering (2005 study)

Related: Another Survey Shows Engineering Degree Results in the Highest PayScience and Engineering Degrees lead to Career SuccessThe Future is Engineering

How to Develop Products like Toyota

How to Develop Products like Toyota

Sobek also says Toyota tends to stay as flexible as possible until relatively late in the development stage. He cites as an example Toyota’s practice of leaving manufacturing tolerances to be set by die makers rather than by design engineers creating the prints. Die makers make die dimensions as close as practical to those in the CAD database, but have the flexibility to modify them so body parts fit together well. Manufacturing engineers then set tolerances around manufacturing capabilities.

“Test first, then design. First run simulations and understand where the boundaries of solutions lie. Once you understand the alternate spaces between competing choices, you narrow the options in what are called integrating events.”

Integrating events are an opportunity to eliminate weak opportunities. It is only after these events are complete that detailed design commences. “The point is that you don’t get to detailed design until everything works,” says Kennedy. “That is the reason Toyota focuses so intently up front on understanding trade-offs.”

This is very similar to agile software development practices. Though due to different processes, software versus car manufacture the two process are not identical.

Though Toyota is adept at developing products, it may be a mistake to adopt its practices wholesale, no matter how good they are. “Much of the lean community tries to crow-bar Toyota’s approach into their own very different business model,”

This is always true. Copying what others do does not work. You can learn from others by understanding the benefits of their process and then adapting the ideas to your organization.

Toyota has several tools that help its engineers organize the tasks at hand. One of the most well known is called the A3 document, named for the size of the paper its information is written on. An A3 holds a distillation of project goals and customer wants. During development, it can serve as a crib sheet for engineers as they set priorities and make trade-offs. “A3s enforce the plan-do-check- act methods of quality,” explains Kennedy. “The A3 becomes the basis for Toyota’s entire review process.”

On my management improvement blog I discuss the Toyota Production System often, you can follow those posts if you are interested.

Related: Toyota Engineering Development ProcessToyota Winglet, Personal Transportation12 stocks for 10 yearsToyota Robots

Honda Engineering

Inside Honda’s brain by Alex Taylor III

why is Honda playing with robots? Or, for that matter, airplanes? Honda is building a factory in North Carolina to manufacture the Hondajet, a sporty twin-engine runabout that carries six passengers. Or solar energy? Honda has established a subsidiary to make and market thin-film solar-power cells. Or soybeans? Honda grows soybeans in Ohio so that it can fill up cargo containers being shipped back to Japan. The list goes on. All this sounds irrelevant to a company that built some 24 million engines last year and stuffed them into everything from cars to weed whackers.

On fuel cells, Honda is literally years ahead of the competition. The FCX Clarity will go on sale in California this summer. It is powered by a fuel cell that uses no gasoline and emits only water vapor. Though mass production is at least a decade away, the Clarity is no mere test mule. Elegant and efficient, its hydrogen-powered fuel-cell stack is small enough to fit in the center tunnel – a significant improvement over other, bulkier power packs – and robust enough for a range of 270 miles.

The wellspring of Honda’s creative juices is Honda R&D, a wholly owned subsidiary of Honda Motor. Based in Saitama, west of Tokyo, R&D engineers create every product that Honda makes – from lawn mowers to motorcycles and automobiles – and pursue projects like Asimo and Hondajet on the side. Defiantly individualistic, R&D insists on devising its own solutions and shuns outside alliances. On paper it reports to Honda Motor, but it is powerful enough to have produced every CEO since the company was founded in 1948.

The engineer in Fukui [Honda's president and CEO] cannot help but be intrigued by what his former colleagues are up to, and his office is only a few steps away from Kato’s. But even with the CEO just down the hall, says Kato, “We want to look down the road. We do not want to be influenced by the business.”

Honda allows its engineers wide latitude in interpreting its corporate mission. “We’ve been known to study the movement of cockroaches and bumblebees to better understand mobility,” says Frank Paluch, a vice president of automotive design. Honda R&D gets about 5% of Honda’s annual revenues. Most of the money goes to vehicle development, not cockroach studies

mistakes like the Insight are also the exception. R&D has provided Honda with a long list of engineering firsts that consumers liked, including the motorcycle airbag, the low-polluting four-stroke marine engine, and ultralow-emission cars.

Related: S&P 500 CEOs – More Engineering GraduatesGoogle Investing Huge Sums in Renewable Energy and is HiringAsimo Robot, Running and Climbing StairsApplied ResearchGoogle: Ten Golden Rules

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