What is garbage to some is grist for research and development to others. To better handle the thousands of dumpsters located at military installations around the country the U.S. Army recently asked Industrial & Municipal Engineering Inc. of Galva, Ill., a $4-million manufacturer of waste-handling equipment, to develop an on-site container-cleanIng apparatus. Under the federal Transfer of Technology program, the Army turned over to Industrial & Municipal all of its preliminary research, which the company developed to fruition and eventually marketed as a new product line called Port-a-washer.

Other companies can also reduce the cost and time of research by tapping into scientific legwork already done by the government. The Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) administers more than 300 federally funded laboratories that operate under the aegis of 11 U.S. agencies. Each laboratory can provide companies with any part of its research free of charge.

There are six regional FLC centers scattered across the country that are integrated into a national data network. Each center has a technology transfer office manned by a representative with direct access to virtually every aspect of unclassified government research.

The rep fields data requests from companies, or sometimes contacts the private sector for help in developing nascent government technology. If a transfer involves patentable technology, the government retains the patent rights and works out a plan whereby the company pays it royalties.

The Army, through its Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), had worked for over six years on a machine that could clean dumpsters in place, rather than transport them to a central area. The research given to Industrial & Municipal enabled the company to design a machine that uses high-pressure water with vacuum retrieval, and can be applied to several purposes, such as cleaning up chemical and oil spills or servicing portable toilets. The technology involved is within the public domain and is available to any company.

"The Army's research amounted to about 50% of the total work needed to make the device," says Charles Tursky, research and development manager for Industrial & Municipal, which carried the project through to the development of an actual product. Industrial & Municipal, notes Gary Gerdes, CERL environmental engineer, "gained a new piece of equipment that they probably wouldn't have come up with on their own."

To find the FLC transfer representative in your region, call FLC executive director Theodore Maher at (202) 447-4407.