Sid Fisher was fuming. The manager of mechanical engineering research for XYZ had spent
most of the morning in a research project review. He had listened patiently at first, then
impatiently, to two young engineers review their research efforts on the development of a
more efficient heat transfer surface. Realizing they were reporting efforts which had been
unsuccessful, he finally interrupted and exclaimed, "Do you men realize that you have
gone down the same blind path that Edwards and O'Malley did about five years ago? Their
detailed research report is in our technical library. Did you read it before you began
The two engineers admitted they had not heard of Edwards and O'Malley's previous work,
had not read the report covering it and, in fact, had made no effort to check the current
technical literature for related publications.
Sid thought about these wasted efforts and the money the unproductive research had cost
his company. He remembered, painfully, at least two other recent efforts where inadequate
literature research had cost XYZ the expense of wasted research and development
activities. In one case a team of XYZ engineers worked hard for two years on a project
only to discover that one of XYZ's competitors had a four-year-old patent covering almost
precisely the same innovation they were developing. Until one of XYZ's patent attorneys
called attention to the competitive patent after reading a monthly research report
mentioning the engineers' project, none of the engineers on the development team had made
any effort to review the patent literature.
In the second case, there had been a long, tedious research effort to modify the
properties of a material for use in a new component part of one of XYZ's products. No
progress at all was made until one of XYZ's scientists got a clue at a technical society
meeting that it might be useful to check an article in a foreign technical journal. The
article provided major help in accelerating the materials development significantly.
Sid thought to himself, "Why won't my engineers read?" Certainly XYZ provided
the wherewithal--a modern technical library adequately supplied with current and past
engineering and scientific journals, facilities for computerized literature searching and
a staff to assist engineers and scientists in using literature resources. Most of his
engineers seemed to lack the incentive to read the literature, Sid thought. At best they
seemed to confine their reading to a current trade journal or two.
Looking for clues to cure the "won't read" syndrome, Sid call an old friend,
who was head of the mechanical engineering department at a nearby university. He asked him
what sort of reading requirements were part of an engineer's course of study at present.
The department head explained that engineering students, because of demanding course
loads, did well to read the assigned textbooks and related technical handbooks and
computer manuals. Significant outside reading began only in the M.S. or Ph.D. thesis
research program. Not overly encouraged by this response, Sid began to think about what he
could do to encourage greater use of available technical literature on the part of his
Discuss the responsibilities XYZ engineers have to keep up with readings relevant to
their research. What responsibilities does Sid Fisher have in this regard? What might Sid
Fisher do to deal effectively with this problem? Do university engineering programs have
any special responsibility to help companies like XYZ with this problem?