What to Do — and Not Do — to Get Your Technology in Front of DOD
Chad Darr, Director of Product Development for Loc Performance Products, Inc. knows a thing or two about getting products in front of the Dept. of Defense. Located in Plymouth, MI, Loc is an SBIR awardee and a full-service manufacturer of large CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machined components and mechanical assemblies for military and commercial applications.
Typical Loc products include custom geared drives, suspension road arm assemblies, generator components and subassemblies, and precision machined components for power transfer applications. The company’s customers include every major Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) of military ground vehicles for both wheeled and tracked vehicles along with several S&P 500 companies for off-highway industrial products.
We tapped into Chad’s experience for some advice on what companies need to do to get their technologies into military systems. Here are some tips he listed for us:
- Establish a relationship directly with the Acquisition Program within the government that buys the system that would benefit from the technology.
- Establish a relationship directly with the prime contractor of the system that would benefit from the technology.
- Coordinate discussions with the prime and Acquisition Program with the R&D project if it is an SBIR-funded effort.
- Leverage those relationships to direct design and development towards something the acquisition community wants.
“An example would be if you have a technology that benefits an Army ground vehicle like the HMMWV,” says Chad. “Establish connections at TACOM PM Light Tactical Vehicle in addition to the AM General who is the prime integrator. Guide development requirements with the TARDEC POC.” How to get connected? When topics are released for each solicitation, many of them will designate the Acquisition Program that is seeking the technology. A search of that Acquisition Program name in Google (i.e. PEO Missiles and Space) will often yield contact names and additional information to help you get connected. Connections can also be developed through your SBIR Technical Points of Contact (TPOCs), so don’t hesitate to ask them for introductions.
Even though companies with compelling technologies receive SBIR funding from DoD, they don’t always get military attention come contract time. We asked Chad why that happens, and here’s what he told us:
- Military products have a long life cycle. Even prime contractors frequently do not field new technologies they are developing for their own platforms because funding priorities and programs change or budgets get cut.
- Development cost is cheap compared to manufacturing, fielding, and sustaining a system. The technology may be useful, but too costly to put into production. This is sometimes because volumes are too small to achieve economies of scale. This is part of the reason DoD is also interested in your company cultivating commercial applications of the technology —this may equate to larger volumes overall and better pricing for the DoD. (see #3).
- SBIR technologies are often focused on long-term visions that don’t materialize in future system requirements. DoD asks that you articulate not only the military applications for your technology and product in your proposal, but that you also consider commercial (or Dual Use) applications. The more thorough your market analysis and consideration of these other applications is, the more likely you’ll have an alternate customer if DoD’s system requirements change. A business model that is primarily dependent on military markets exposes your company to additional risk because of fluctuating budgets and priorities.
- SBIR technologies that are focused on near-term problems may not be at a Technical Readiness Level (TRL) that is sufficient for fielding. By the time they are ready, the need has passed or it has been addressed by a different solution. The potentially high expense for advancing your technology up to the necessary TRL 9 also contributes to the cost concerns mentioned above.
- If companies 100% listen to their R&D POC, they risk developing something that is attractive from a technology perspective but is too expensive for the prime/acquisition activity to justify fielding. The developer needs to balance the needs of the R&D POC (Point of Contact) with those of the prime and acquisition activity targeted for production fielding.
Will LOC work with SBIR awardees and introduce them to key people at a prime?
Loc is well positioned to leverage its resources to promote promising technologies, particularly if the technology could benefit from Loc’s precision manufacturing expertise in mechanical systems. Chad and Loc are happy to leverage their contacts, industry reputation and manufacturing skill set to help other SBIR awardees gain traction on their commercialization plans. For more information please visit website at www.locperformance.com or contact Loc at (734) 453-2300.