Understanding of technology and its transfer into manufacturable products is grossly misunderstood in the land of the pure. Focussed research is the starting point; then comes the challenge of its application and commercialisation. Technology is the application of scientific research which is then transferred through a methodology into marketable products. Pilot-level testing is an intermediary step which plays an important role in establishing the credibility of research carried out in the laboratory at a small scale by qualified scientists. In large-scale manufacturing, volume effects and process variability/capability have to be understood and monitored.

As Chairman, the Pakistan Science Foundation (2002 to 2005), I tried to introduce focussed product-driven research. About forty projects were identified and launched with the collaboration of industry to ensure application of research. The first MBA was hired to interact with the industry. An Industrial Liaison Group was developed that identified collaborative research projects identified by the manufacturers.

Like the rest of the world, the country faces the corona pandemic. Testing kits and equipment like respirators are in short supply. Two universities have claimed some success in indigenous development; Punjab University (PU) has developed testing kits while the National University of Science and Technology (NUST) has developed kits as well as respirators. According to the Minister of Science and Technology 150,000 COVID testing kits are ready together with a respirator design approved by the Pakistan Engineering Council. Now, the Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) will be approached for approval after evaluation and testing by its Medical Device Board (MCD). As human lives are involved, a very strict evaluation criterion is followed. Bio-medical engineers and pathologists would be involved. Side effects, injury, possible failures, change, deterioration followed by clinical investigation will be required. Once this step has been successfully accomplished, the transfer of technology to a manufacturing facility will be undertaken; naturally a university cannot produce and sell commercial products on a large-scale.

The private sector is shy of local research mainly due to a lack of clarity of Transfer of Technology (ToT) frameworks. An intermediary approach can be adopted to meet immediate needs. Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT)m that produces Al-Khalid Tanks can be tasked to build the respirators as per the approved design of NUST while the Pakistan Ordinance Factories can build the testing kits. Once the pandemic is over, tested and established technologies could be licensed to the private sector for large-scale manufacturing and export.

A technology roadmap requires Research, Development and Commercialisation (RDC). As a Professor of New Product Development, I tell my class it is a journey from romance to finance. Most products start as romance but very few end up as commercial products that generate wealth. Three examples come to mind; Waves Deep Freezer was developed in the Haveli of Butt Sahib’s grandfather in Mochi Darwaza, Qarshi Jam-e-Shireen was developed by Dr Janjua, an Industrial Chemist at PCSIR Labs Lahore. Revo Adams, a family car, was built in Karachi by engineer Feroz Khan. He produced 500 units on the promise that the government would place a larger order but was made to shut down when the Prime Minister reneged on his promise.

If we are able to transfer our indigenous research into marketable products it will provide a breakthrough. Our able young researchers need guidance and frameworks developed by experienced technologists. While science consumes, technology produces. As a nation, we have risen in the past. Pakistan was the first country in Asia to produce Silicon Wafers from our local sand (National Institute of Silicon Technology), to deploy the first rocket into space (Rahber 1 by SUPARCO), to build the High-Tension Physics Lab (Government College University, Lahore), to manufacture ball point pens (the private sector). I agree with the Minister; we have potential but we must learn to apply and commercialise our research which China has been able to accomplish.