Small business owners and chief executives from across the United
States claim that they have immense difficulties competing in the
defense industry, where giant companies dominate the market.
In an effort to help small firms become more competitive, a Pennsylvania
congressman sponsored a government program called Technology Insertion
Demonstration and Evaluation (TIDE). The program receives $5 million
a year from the Department of Defense, and is managed by the Carnegie
Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, a federally
funded research and development center.
The TIDE program focuses on software technology to help companies
run their businesses more effectively. TIDE is in its third and
final year, because the program is phasing into a permanent organization,
the Center for Manufacturing Excellence. It will continue to be
based at the Software Engineering Institute.
Mike Doyle, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, initiated the TIDE Program,
with key support from fellow congressman John Murtha, another Pennsylvanian
who is the ranking Democrat on the Defense Appropriations Committee.
Even though small business assistance programs often are perceived
as unnecessary pork-barrel spending, Doyle claims that the TIDE
project offers tangible benefits to the U.S. defense industry and
contributes to its competitiveness.
“We have a strong manufacturing tradition in Pittsburgh,”
Doyle said of his congressional district. “But these are not
the big guys. We have smaller and medium size manufacturers,”
he said. The group isn’t Silicon Valley, “but we have
strengths,” he said.
With the intent to grow the regional economy and capitalize on
the area’s strengths in manufacturing, Doyle hosted a high-tech
summit in 1998, to address how small- to medium-sized businesses
could keep current with software developments, so they could improve
business processes. Out of that summit came the idea that a technology
demonstration program should be established.
The TIDE program was rolled out in 2000, and has experienced success
in helping small businesses improve their bottom line, said Doyle.
Murtha’s Web site says the TIDE program has contributed to
the creation of about 10,000 software jobs regionally.
With the first phase ending, Doyle pointed out that the program
was only meant to have a temporary status, until it could be transitioned
into a larger effort. “We’ll be phasing in the Center
for Manufacturing Excellence, where small companies can come in
and kick the tire, so to speak,” he added.
Doyle explained that many small businesses don’t have an
adequate cash flow to invest in software or database technology,
especially if they are not sure how it works, or if it will be the
right thing for their business. For that reason, “They were
starting to fall behind,” he said.
At the same time, the Defense Department was having trouble finding
small contractors to supply various items, Doyle said. So the summit
was developed to “put together some de-monstration projects,
to show them (the small businesses) some new techniques. Most owners
of small companies want to modernize,” said Doyle. “They
want to utilize the software that’s out there, but they have
a hard time determining what’s the right software for them,”
he said. That’s where TIDE comes in. “Companies can
test things out before they make the commitment to purchase it,”
“Emerging software technologies have great potential to enhance
manufacturing competitiveness, but there is a need for technology
transition support to help manufacturers adopt and apply these technologies
effectively,” Doyle said.
Programs such as TIDE should, in the long term, contribute to a
greater presence by small businesses in the defense contractor community.
“Big companies don’t have time to go to these small
companies to get them up to speed so they can use them in the supply
chain,” but they still want to contract out certain jobs to
small businesses, Doyle said.
“We’re helping to create a dependable defense supply
chain,” said Doyle. The results have been measurable, he added.
He said the program has “dramatically increased productivity
and efficiency,” for the companies which have been involved.
“We’ve put him (the small business owner) in a position
where he’s very attractive for big companies to work with
in the supply chain,” he said.
“We’ve had workshops to bring all of these manufacturers
in from Western Pennsylvania,” Doyle said. Though the companies
that have taken advantage of TIDE are mainly locals, there are lessons
that companies in other states can learn from the TIDE program.
“The type of manufacturing we’re seeing today is not
sweat and muscle, it’s operating machinery by computers,”
said Doyle. There is a need to implement technology into their systems,
so TIDE identified a need to create a “one-stop center for
companies to come, to choose the right system for them. We wanted
to create a textbook for how to do it,” he said.
Kurt Lesker, president of the 200-employee Kurt J. Lesker Company,
based in Clairton, Pennsylvania, said his company benefited from
its participation in the TIDE program. “We were wrestling
with a couple of issues, one being the changing world and another
being how software affects your business. We were also trying to
compete with companies from Asia in automation of our equipment,”
Lesker’s company, which has been operating since 1954, manufactures
vacuum systems, which are needed to build items such as semi-conductors.
The company’s clients include the Defense Department laboratories,
national laboratories, universities and private-sector laboratories,
such as Dupont, IBM and Lucent.
“We felt that we understood the mechanical and electronic
side, but we didn’t understand the software side. We saw that
side as involving lots and lots of dollars and confusion,”
The company sat down for a brainstorming session with TIDE and
“started to work on a project to use things the government
had learned,” said Lesker.
Lesker said TIDE’s approach was modeled from the Defense
Department’s development of military platforms. “How
are we able to build a piece of equipment to fit a client, doing
it in a quick manner at a reasonable price?” he asked.
“We looked at engineering software capabilities, and identified
the priorities of the customer base, which are functionality, timeliness,
reliability and cost. From that, we basically restructured our business,
shifted our mentality, to address how to achieve these objectives.
“We only want to invent things we have to invent. So we shifted
our business model to inserting commercial off-the-shelf technology
when possible,” he said.
The Lesker Company came up with standard platforms and designs
and then determined what software they needed to apply those designs
to new projects. Through that approach, “we doubled our capacity
to manufacture,” Lesker said.
“Forty employees have doubled their output by learning what
the customer wanted and by being flexible. Before, we struggled
to do $6 million worth of business. And now we’re doing $12
million worth of business,” he said. Delivery time also decreased
from 18 to 20 weeks to 12 or 14 weeks, he added.
“When you double your capacity by not spending more, that
is value. We had to put some money into it, but we did that only
after we determined what kind of things we needed,” Lesker
“You can’t just buy software to make your business
better, but if you sit down and talk about what you need, go through
the mental gymnastics of what you need, and then determine what
software can help, then it becomes obvious. Everyone was committed
to making it work, and it did work,” he said.
“Our price of the product dropped in the market place and
our profits have gone up,” he added.