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Technological Extinctions of Industrial Firms: An Inquiry into their ...

Technological Extinctions of Industrial Firms: An Inquiry into their ...

5.3. Process Innovation

5.3. Process Innovation 42 To analyze process innovation in televisions, we rely primarily on a list of innovations from 1946 to 1970. Levy [1981, pp. 64-68] developed a brief list of five major process developments, each involving multiple innovations. We supplemented Levy’s list with our own based upon the trade literature. We analyzed articles cited in the Industrial Arts Index (later Applied Science and Technology Index), which comprehensively indexed articles in most substantial journals in electronics and other industrial trades, from the years 1946 through 1971. 33 Any new manufacturing techniques described for televisions (but not components) and created at U.S. firms were catalogued, yielding a list of 264 innovations by U.S. firms. The innovations were ranked on a seven-point scale, and as for the automobile innovations in Abernathy et al. [1983], squares of the rankings were used to address the nonlinear relationship between rank and impact. 34 We recorded the date at which each major (rank 4 or higher) innovation occurred where available, or in other cases a span of years in which the major innovation seems to have occurred given the context of ongoing innovations and of firms’ activities. Table 12 presents all innovations ranked 4 or higher, grouped into six categories. Categories of innovations and specific innovations corresponding to Levy’s major developments are denoted by asterisks. 35 The innovations in Table 12 are not attributed to particular firms because in most cases they were developed by multiple firms. To supplement the table of innovations, labor productivity data available beginning in 1958 for radios and TVs together are presented in Table 13. We summed the impact ratings of the major process innovations presented in 33 Of approximately 210 relevant articles, 198 were obtained and analyzed. A search of key journals with television-related articles uncovered a handful of additional articles of relevance, and those articles were included in the analysis. 34Rankings of the innovations were estimated subjectively on the basis of the potential for cost savings in the adopting plants. 35 The use of transistors and integrated circuits is mentioned by Levy as a single development, but integrated circuits had the greater impact on manufacturing processes and accordingly are designated by an asterisk in Table 12.

43 Table 12 according to their dates of innovation. In the years 1946-1950, major innovations had an average total impact (squared rank) of 56 per year, versus 25 per year in the years 1951-1960 and 5 per year in 1961-1970. Thus, the trend in major innovations indicates that the most process innovation occurred in the industry’s earliest years, with process innovation slowing thereafter, dropping off particularly in the 1960s. 36 The productivity data for TV and radio manufacturing combined, shown in Table 13, begin in 1958, once the number of innovations had already dropped off. They show a roughly constant productivity increase of 5.1% per annum from 1958 to 1980, yielding a tripling in productivity over those years, and hence indicate that strong productivity advance continued even in the period when both Levy’s and our own lists catalogue fewer innovations. Indeed, Zenith Vice President Leonard Dietch, in an interview with Levy [1981, p. 71], estimated an even greater productivity improvement for TV sets alone than is reflected in Table 13, with labor hours per set falling from 8-10 in the early 1960s to 2 in the late 1970s. The earliest television process innovations were mainly variants on radio manufacturing techniques and represent adoption rather than invention. Indeed, radio producers brought in their radio production supervisors and engineers to assist in setting up television manufacturing lines. In contrast, beginning in 1948 innovations were developed contemporaneously for use in TVs as well as in radios and other products. In the 1950s, attention turned from developing streamlined assembly lines and equipment for operators toward more automated production. TV manufacturers began to use printed circuit boards, dip soldering to solder multiple components simultaneously, and automated component insertion. These techniques were adapted to TV set production based on approaches used by the electronics industry at large. In 36 For the minor innovations, the timing of the innovations has not been catalogued, and the availability of information is affected by trends in publication, but some idea of the number of innovations can be gained by counting the impact of the innovations according to their publication times. For minor innovations discussed in articles during the period 1946-1950, minor innovations had an average total impact of 34 per year, versus 88 per year in 1951-1960 and 4 per year in 1961-1970. Breaking down further the minor innovations in the 1950s, there was an average total impact of 127 per year during 1951-1953, 118 per year in 1954-1956, and 35 per year during 1957-1960. Given the delay between innovation and publication, the innovations described in 1951-1953 may have occurred before the shakeout in the number of producers began in 1951.

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