At the Roundtable “SMEs: how to integrate advanced technologies, in partnership with public research” held at the “RDV Carnot” on May 5th and 6th in Lyon, Florin Paun, Deputy Director for Industrial Innovation at ONERA, explained why “the French research is not wired for innovation”.
After a few provocative remarks, Florin Paun, explained the concept of Technology Readiness Level. It is a concept widely used in the aerospace and defense sectors that helps to qualify the level of maturity of a technology.
“Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is a measure used by some United States government agencies and many of the world’s major companies (and agencies) to assess the maturity of evolving technologies (materials, components, devices, etc.) prior to incorporating that technology into a system or subsystem.” (Wikipedia).
French research in the TRL scale
As shown in the Figure “TRLs and French research”, TRLs range from 1 to 9. TRL 1 is basic research, TRL 2 is applied research, TRL 3 and 4 correspond to a demonstrator in the laboratory, TRL 6 and 7 correspond to a prototype and TRL 9 is a technology ready to be released on the market.
The natural (historic) positioning of the vast majority of public research laboratories is located in very low levels of TRL (1 and 2). Carnot institutes are located a little higher in the scale of TRL and some of them even reach TRL 4. CETIM, repeatedly cited by Florin Paun, is also capable of rising high enough in the TRLs.
Attracting industry, especially SMEs, would require that the public research technologies reach at least TRLs of 4 or 5.
“The techno-push with TRL less than 4 are not relevant to industry.”
Why stay so low in TRL?
When he was studying in a French Grande Ecole, he was always struck by its motto, said Florin Paun.
“For the Nation, Science and Glory … and? Isn’t there something missing? For value, perhaps!?”.
There is a cultural block, french peolpe are somewhat ashamed to talk about money.
Another aspect which was highlighted by Florin Paun is the existence of several imbalances between public research and SMEs.
- A relationship imbalance: public research and SMEs do not speak the same language. There is a need for translation, reformulation of the needs of SMEs and solutions provided by research laboratories.
- A financial and temporal imbalance: while SMEs take financial risks by setting up research contracts with laboratories, researchers, meanwhile do not face the same constraints of time.Motivations, simply are not the same (see our articles on research-industry collaborations Part 1 and Part 2).
“Imbalance create value, but this imbalance needs to be compensated to capture the value”.
One of the missions of the SATTs (Technology Transfer Acceleration Firms), recently introduced by the French Government, will be to compensate these two imbalance.
“SMEs, go and see the Carnot Institutes!”