The field of research and development (R&D, as it is more commonly referred to) is relatively new. Before the 1950s there was scientific research, of course, but the idea of connecting it to development came into being in the mid-20th century. Research is an ancient tool and is as old as science itself. Think, for a moment about how ancient peoples transported large objects such as the stones used for building Stonehenge. To do this the ancients used wheeled vehicles, but how were these developed? It has been speculated that large items were placed on smooth logs and pulled by horses or other large animals. This system of early transport paved the way for the development of wheels and wheeled vehicles. Neolithic people clearly understood the need for research and development.
Before new products hit the supermarket shelves they go through a long process. First comes the idea, followed by the research done to see if the idea is workable and next comes the development phase when products are made, tried and tested. A prototype is made to find out if the idea is feasible and not just an idea that is impractical. The prohibitive cost of developing some products means that they aren’t developed after the prototype has been made.
Research us either pure or applied. In industry, pure (or basic) research is conducted to further the pursuit of a goal which will, it is hoped, benefit the industry undertaking the research.
Applied research takes the findings of pure research and moves them towards a point from which they can be utilised to meet an identified need. Then comes the development stage when the product, for example, is taken further and moved into the production stage.
In the developed, or industrial world, countries such as Japan the US and European countries, governments and private companies have realised that research and development is integral to economic planning.
Companies have recognised that investing in research and development is necessary to keep ahead of the competition. It is the R&D departments which make businesses successful (or not).