Acquisition of new knowledge in Swedish manufacturing companies - How could it be improved?
Paper in proceedings, 2017
Experience has shown that new research does not reach out to companies and organizations in Sweden as desired. The spread and application of useful research results was found to be limited to relatively few companies. The situation is similar across the EU according to investigations. This means that many improvement possibilities are missed and probably also increased profitability and competitiveness.
In order to explore the underlying reasons for this nineteen Swedish companies were asked about participation in an interview study. Nine agreed to participate and interviews among upper level management were accomplished in order to investigate how new knowledge was acquired and implemented. The interview study included 18 semi-open questions about:
organizational relationships; decision levels; distribution of responsibility; cooperation between different departments; successful implementation factors; responsibility for ergonomics issues; management of assembly-related errors and conditions for effective knowledge dissemination.
The results showed that the small businesses lacked sufficient resources to manage major changes and that binding subcontractor agreements counteracted possible improvements of product design and assembly solutions. In some cases additional implementation support is probably needed to succeed because time-consuming change initiatives that were not highly prioritized could often not be sufficiently considered. A critical mass of knowledgeable people was considered crucial to manage implementation of new methods and working procedures. It was perceived difficult to find research reports of interest for the own business. Only one company had an ergonomics specialist involved in early development phases but this expertize was wanted by several companies. Eight of nine companies thought it would be useful to increase cooperation with universities and/or research teams.
There are different decision-making forums in different companies that decide on changes or implementation of new approaches and methods. Academic knowledge dissemination, implementation and need of (external) support therefore must be adapted to varying conditions in companies in order to be utilized to a much larger extent. Direct communication and local abutment is crucial.
Improvement proposals were developed for how to support dissemination and implementation of new knowledge. These were:
1. Compilation of easy to read summaries (including contact persons) distributed by research institutes and others conducting research, which companies could subscribe to (see 5. below).
2. Innovation/competence centers (knowledge transfer offices) for collaboration/networks between SMEs, universities and research centers of various kind; financing and consulting services for exploitation of research results including specialist staff to help identify and manage relevant knowledge with business potential.
3. Additional time and budget at the end of research programs intended for further dissemination of results and implementation assistance.
4. Targeted seminars and work-shops.
5. A web portal including useful information of latest research publications, upcoming work-shops, projects and others of interest.
6. E-learning for introduction and training in new working methods, tools and others of importance for knowledge transfer before implementation.
For all proposals a clear responsibility should be agreed and decided.