How we use contract research for low risk, high value, product focused technology development
James Garrett, PhD
Vice President, Technology Development Division
Moving new technologies from idea to market.
At a time when many large businesses are slashing research and development dollars and limiting work to only a few core technologies, Luna continues to maintain and grow a powerhouse R&D organization. In our contract research division alone, Luna employs more than 60 scientists and engineers, over half of whom have advanced degrees including 22 PhDs.
We are able to support our diverse research activities because we conduct much of our applied research on a fee-for-service basis for third parties, but with a product-focused approach. We seek out opportunities and provide research services for customers in our primary areas of focus, including fiber optic sensing; health and usage monitoring systems (HUMS) for asset protection; and materials such as coatings, adhesives, composites, nanomaterials, and biomaterials. In each case we focus primarily on opportunities where we can develop intellectual property rights in areas that we believe have commercialization potential. We don’t want to simply develop one-off technology for a customer and move on to the next contract. We want to use multiple contracts strategically to create technology platforms around which we can build multiple products that can be effectively commercialized.
How Luna minimizes risk while conducting diverse R&D
Many businesses fund product development with profit from product sales. This model works most efficiently when the next generation of products carefully leverages the current generation. It can be very risky and/or expensive for product-funded development to stray too far from the core expertise. As Luna uses contract research to develop new, emerging technologies in diverse fields, the path to commercialization may vary in order to maximize value for each one. For example, Luna could become a manufacturer and distributor of that product, similar to our telecommunications and ODiSI fiber optic products. A specific technology or platform could be sold outright, like the sale of our Secure Computing and Communications group to MacAuley Brown (Mac-B) earlier this year. Intellectual property developed at Luna can also be licensed to enable more rapid productization. This was the case when we recently licensed our omniphobic textile treatment to UltraTech International Incorporated. We want to create value for Luna and our stakeholders in whatever way makes the most sense for each platform, and a varied commercialization approach helps to accommodate a diverse technology portfolio.
Working with early adopters
We are now moving forward with many new technologies, and in order to discover what will yield the most value, we need feedback from potential partners and customers. With so many different technology platforms emerging from Luna’s contract research business, it is critical that we create the capabilities to research, develop, fabricate, and commercialize (sell or license) products from within a single platform. This approach allows for rapid iteration, early prototyping, and critical interaction with early adopters before finalizing and fully scaling up production. To improve access to Luna’s new technologies, we are introducing our Developmental Products Store.
Products available here are, in most cases, very high fidelity prototypes or products in low rate initial production that are in the process of scale up and standardization. These are not yet final Luna products, but will still serve the needs of many customers. We want to make these technologies available to early adopters and see what they think so that we can refine the products to best serve the markets. Input from early adopters can be rapidly integrated into refined versions and we can ensure we are meeting the needs of the market.
Contract research has allowed Luna to continue to investigate new technologies and products in a very diverse and agile manner without taking on additional risk. Our variable commercialization strategy mirrors our flexible development efforts and we are excited to work with new customers through our Development Products Store. Of course, we are always up for a challenge, so if there is anything we can do to help you or your business, we would be happy to hear from you.