Research and development is the generation of new knowledge. In a business context, it is an activity that companies undertake in order to develop new products, processes, or services, or improve those that already exist. In order to do this, businesses often take on risks. This is because uncertainties exist around if what they are attempting is technologically feasible, or, more commonly, they don’t know how they will achieve their objectives in practical terms.
R&D is an essential function for many businesses. Launching new offerings or improving existing ones is a way for a business to remain competitive and make a profit. When developing a new product, process, or service, or refining an existing one, R&D is one of the earliest phases. Experimentation and innovation are often rife at this stage, along with risk. The R&D cycle often begins with ideation and theorizing, followed by research and exploration, and then into design and development.
Research and development occur across a wide range of sectors and industries, and in companies of all sizes. These range from intensive R&D industries that rely heavily on R&D projects like pharmaceuticals, life sciences, automotive, software, and technology to areas like food and drink. R&D also plays a major role in the construction industry, in particular in manufacturing and engineering.
Types of research and development :
All R&D tends to start with ideas and theories – this can relate to identifying issues or new opportunities. The R&D process then focuses on exploring and researching those ideas, seeing what’s feasible. There are two main types of research R&D-basic research and applied research. Basic research is all about acquiring knowledge and using it to build understanding and intelligence that a business can use to its advantage. This knowledge can be the foundation for further R&D projects and feed into strategic business decisions.
Applied research is a lot more defined and often looks to achieve a specific objective. This could be using new technology, reaching a new market, improving safety, or cutting costs. Applied research is often what leads to the development phase. The design and development phase is all about taking an idea and making it into a product or process. Effectively, it’s about translating the research into a commercial product or service. It often involves designs, prototyping, trials, testing, and refinement.
Prototyping is key to the development phase as it allows you to identify and overcome issues, and improve the design. Eventually, for those in manufacturing development, you move into manufacturing trials where you look to produce the product on a larger scale. R&D and product development often go hand in hand. Rapid changes in consumer demands and emerging technologies mean there’s always a need to adapt.
Before developing new products, you need a deep understanding of the market and the user needs. This lays the groundwork for the development of the new product. Various concepts are generated and tested at the outset. These can then be prototyped for further research and testing.
Improving existing products and processes
The continual evaluation of existing products, services, and processes is also a key part of R&D. If a product, service, or process is no longer profitable or adding value in a market then it risks stagnating. It could also be that technology has been developed that could facilitate improvements that may cut costs, make efficiency gains or improve safety. This can include improvements to the manufacturing and production processes of the product. Legislative changes or shifts in user wants can also mean a product or process must change or evolve to remain viable.