The feasibility study tested more than the feasibility of doing meaningful research in an international collaborative environment. It tested also management feasibility, by which is meant the feasibility of managing the formation of multinational consortia, with specific emphasis on IPR protection, equity, the balance of inputs and outputs, and substantive and timely research content.
The feasibility study looked also at related questions. Could a broad spectrum of industrial and academic partners be encouraged and motivated to participate in a set of research consortia despite each having its own priorities? Could results be packaged to enable them to flow to the broad, global industrial base? Could it help raise the professional standards of, and recognition of, manufacturing engineers worldwide? It also considered how to enable small- and medium-sized companies to take part.
The Participants tested this feasibility through extensive dialogue in which they shared relevant experiences, discussed commercial, legal and other barriers to cooperation, and sought ways to encourage beneficial interactions. They also selected five test cases and one study from independent proposals received from the private sector to provide additional information needed to design a possible future program.
It divided the feasibility study into two portions: a study of modalities, technical themes, and contribution and funding arrangements; and R&D test cases. It included implementation procedures to guide both portions.
Three international committees managed the feasibility study. These committees were: the International Steering Committee, the International Technical Committee, and the International Intellectual Property Rights Committee. The governments or public administrations of the six Participants appointed members of their delegations to these committees. In addition, regional secretariats assisted the three committees in their work.
The Terms of Reference provided four general principles for determining technical themes for the R&D test cases and for a full-scale program. These principles were:
In order to expedite the formation of test cases, the Terms of Reference allowed existing R&D projects to be modified. In the end, no existing R&D projects applied, although given the short time for proposal submission most major partners in consortia which made successful proposals had some previous knowledge of each other.
Importantly, partners in an R&D test case had to delineate acceptable IPR provisions in advance that were consistent with the IPR guidelines developed by the International Intellectual Property Rights Committee. The selected test cases strove to reach acceptable IPR agreements. Most were successful although it was determined after monitoring the test cases that some changes were needed to allow certain potential partners, i.e., universities, to participate effectively.
The Terms of Reference also stipulated criteria to help ensure success: collaboration in each R&D test case would be equitable and balanced, in terms of contributions and benefits; scientific and technical merit; industrial relevance; a high degree of interregional collaboration and participation; an appraisal of adoption and deployment mechanisms, including methods for technology transfer; and sufficient resources and expertise on the part of consortia.
The committees each met six times over a two-year period, beginning in February 1992 and ending in January 1994 with meetings of the International Steering Committee. Except for their initial meetings, the International Technical Committee and the International Intellectual Property Rights Committee met concurrently in close proximity and held joint heads-of-delegation meetings to ensure flow of information and to lessen logistical burdens on the secretariats. In addition, all committees found it useful and expeditious to form interim task forces to help complete their work.
Each Participant, through the auspices of their respective secretariat, hosted one meeting of each committee. The delegation hosting a particular meeting also served as chair and retained chairmanship until the next meeting. The order of chairs was determined at the first secretariat meeting in Fribourg, Switzerland in December 1991.
Each committee developed a detailed workplan for the feasibility study which was revised and updated as needed. The International Technical Committee and International Intellectual Property Rights Committee workplans were in accordance with, and approved by, the International Steering Committee. While initial discussions of a full-scale program began quickly in all committees, the committees' first three meetings revolved around creating guidelines for the test case proposals and selecting those test cases. Much of the information exchanged and agreed upon in creating these guidelines was relevant to later discussions of a full-scale program.
The primary responsibilities of the International Steering Committee included discussing and making recommendations regarding the establishment of an international collaborative program. In particular, it looked at the modalities of international collaboration, IPR issues, contribution and funding. The Committee selected and assessed five test cases and one study based on the recommendations of the International Technical Committee and the International IPR Committee. While it proved unnecessary, the International Steering Committee had the authority to commission independent studies to analyse administrative procedures, and assessment mechanisms and accounting procedures for non-financial contributions. All recommendations were arrived at through a consensus process.
The International Technical Committee recommended to the International Steering Committee the technical themes for the feasibility study and an international program, and developed the criteria for selecting and evaluating test case proposals. It monitored and assessed the progress of the five test cases and one study chosen for the feasibility study. It also made technical recommendations regarding the feasibility of international collaboration in advanced manufacturing. As with the International Steering Committee, it arrived at all recommendations through consensus.
It had eighteen (18) members: three each from Australia, Canada, Japan, and the United States; and six from the combined delegation of the EC and the five participating EFTA countries. They were from the industrial, academic and governmental/public administrative sectors of the six participants. The industrial sector was prominently represented.
The International Intellectual Property Rights Committee developed for the feasibility study and for a full-scale program guidelines for the creation, protection, and equitable dissemination of intellectual property created under the IMS program which applicants could use to formulate an IPR agreement, consistent with international agreements, domestic laws, and generally accepted business practices. The Committee also wrote rules for the exchange of information, confidentiality and conflict of interest for members of all three committees.
The regional secretariats acted individually and in close collaboration during the feasibility study to disseminate program information, serve as a conduit for test case proposals, and organise the logistics of the committees' regular meetings. In addition, the Japanese, Australian and European secretariats each organised an international IMS symposium to help disseminate information during the feasibility study. The US and Canadian secretariats have proposed to co-sponsor a fourth international symposium which is to be held in June 1994.
Several Participants also were supported by private sector organisations or governmental advisory groups interested in IMS. These groups included: Japan's IMS Promotion Centre, a legal entity of the International Robotics and Factory Automation Association (IROFA); the Coalition for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems (CIMS), a non-profit voluntary industry association in the United States; the IMS Ad-Hoc Group, representing the EC member states; the EFTA IMS Expert Group (EIEG); the National Research Council (NRC) and an Industrial Advisory Council in Canada; and Australia's Industry Research and Development Board.
At its first meeting, the International Steering Committee agreed that similar information about the feasibility study should be given throughout all the regions, and that each region should have control over public events organised in its region related to the feasibility study. The International Steering Committee directed each Participant to inform the relevant secretariats about IMS events involving members from other regions. This action expedited the informal flow of information about upcoming symposia and other events.
More formally, the International Steering Committee at its second meeting had the secretariats put out a call for entities interested in participating in an R&D test case. These expressions of interest returned to the regional secretariats included the organisation's name, area of interest and so on. All secretariats regularly circulated to other secretariats their region's expressions of interest, and distributed those they received from the other secretariats to their own interested entities.
Within regions, information exchange prior to consortium formation varied from region to region. Some regions had an existing infrastructure for general consortium formation for international collaboration, and/or for distributing information about advanced manufacturing R&D. Others developed special arrangements for the feasibility study. Illustrative examples of the types of regional actions are listed below.
The Australian Steering Group for IMS held two industry workshops at an early stage of the bid process and used direct mailing and personal contacts - including the use of a brochure outlining the goals and structure of the feasibility study and containing points of contact - to develop its list of interested entities.
The Canadian secretariat developed a list of 115 entities and held workshops in Toronto and Calgary to explain the process to interested parties. It also provided ongoing support to Canadian and other groups expressing interest in participation.
The European secretariat organised a workshop in June 1992 to stimulate discussions on the technical themes and the IPR guidelines for Test Cases. A description of the technical themes and an "interested parties list" form were mailed to all groups on the European IMS mailing list. About 100 expressions of interest were received. The European secretariat ran an `open door' policy: everyone who expressed an interest in IMS received the necessary information and subsequent updated expression of interest lists regularly.
The Japanese secretariat through the IMS Promotion Centre distributed the information received from other secretariats to the coordinating organisations of their eighteen domestic IMS research projects. The Japanese secretariat also distributed information on the eighteen domestic preliminary projects to all on the List of Entities developed in each region.
The US secretariat developed a IMS mailing list and held regular workshops, often in conjunction with interested US organisations such as the Coalition for Intelligent Manufacturing Systems and the National Centre for Manufacturing Sciences prior to, and during, the feasibility study. It distributed its request for expressions of interest to the individuals, companies and organisations included on this mailing list as well as to those on lists provided by other government agencies, US consortia and trade associations. Like the Europeans, the United States practiced an open door policy providing information to any who expressed an interest in IMS.