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PhD Thesis Concludes That Small & Medium-Sized Machine Tool Businesses Innovate Through Interim Solutions And Not By Employing Systematic R+D Processes

January 13, 2011

The machine-tool sector innovates responding to the needs of customers and in an ad hoc manner, and not as a result of concrete R+D activities. This was the conclusion of sociologist Beatriz Otero, in a PhD thesis defended at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) and entitled, Made in Euskadi: innovating in the machine-tool sector in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. Ms Otero focused on small and medium-sized enterprises in the sector within the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAPV), analyzing their processes of innovation and their relation with other players. Moreover, she placed special attention on the influence of the region, on factors such as the educational system, the R+D systems and public policies, amongst others.

Ms Otero undertook her study from the perspective of innovation systems, taking into consideration the interactive nature of these types of processes, as well as the diversity of the participating actors. The employment of this approach was, moreover, one of the contributions of the thesis. On successfully using it to analyze the machine-tool sector in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, the sociologist concluded that it would be ideal to analyze the processes of innovation in small and medium-sized enterprises (pymes in its Spanish acronym) of any sector involving the ongoing development of its products.

Interviews in 25 companies

In-depth interviews made up the main source of information for the research, involving a total of 25 machine-tool and auxiliary companies in the sector; all in the Basque province of Gipuzkoa, and more concretely with Technical Department and R+D Managers and company Directors of the enterprises. Another 11 interviews were carried out with players involved in the sector: technological sectors and enterprise R+D units (Ideko, Tekniker, Koniker), Professional Training centers (the Machine-Tool Institute), cooperative research clusters and centers within the sector (Invema and CIC MarGUNE), and with persons responsible for innovation policy in the CAPV Government (SPRI) and the Spanish State (CDTI). Finally, a number of experts were interviewed about the historical evolution of the sector.

Apart from the interviews, Eustat (the Basque Institute of Statistics) data was employed, as well as plans and other instruments of technology and innovation policy of the Basque Government and various publications in the sector.

Doing, Using and Interacting

With all this data at hand, Ms Otero was able to conclude that, effectively, pymes in the machine-tool sector in the CAPV do innovate, but not specifically through R+D activities. The sociologist observed that the DUI (Doing, Using and Interacting) model functioned in this sector. This involves an experimental and reactive innovative activity, based on developing and adapting products in response to customer needs. The DUI model is, thus, counterposed to the STI (Science, Technology and Innovation) model, more closely involved with the work of universities and research centers, where formal R+D processes linked with explicit and codified knowledge acquisition is of paramount importance.

Moreover, Ms Otero underlines that innovation amongst enterprises in this sector is based on processes of interactive learning, where engineers, production workers, client company employees, suppliers and others act together in the quest for solutions to technological problems.

About the author

Ms Beatriz Otero Guti©rrez (Santander, 1978) is a Sociology graduate. She undertook her PhD thesis under the direction of Mikel Olazaran from the Department of Sociology at the University School of Education at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU)’s Donostia-San Sebastián campus, and Eneka Albizu (from the Department of Finance Economics II at the University School of Labour Relations (UPV/EHU). She defended her thesis at the Department of Sociology of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Communication. Ms Otero currently is a member of the research personnel contracted by the UPV/EHU.

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