The National Machine Tool Builders Association in McLean, which represents about 90 percent of the machine tool industry, said yesterday it has no connection with a plan by Washington businessman O. Roy Chalk to form a joint research group to study technologically advanced machine tool systems.
The Justice Department Tuesday said it would have no antitrust objections to Chalk's proposal for a joint research project to be built around Chalk's new multimillion-dollar high-tech machine shop in Northeast Washington.
Chalk's proposal would be similar to plans already under way by the computer and software industries to set up joint research projects to get the jump on foreign competition. Officials at NMTBA claim, however, that they knew nothing about Chalk's proposed machine tool research project.
"I just don't know what they're up to," said James A. Gray, the association's president. "I don't know anything about what they're doing."
The machine tool partnership could potentially facilitate new and intensified research efforts in the domestic machine tool industry, said J. Paul McGrath, the Justice Department official who heads the antitrust division.
But the association contends foreign competition, rather than the lack of research and development funds, is the problem facing the machine tool industry and noted that many imported tools have been installed in Chalk's DCTech Research Centers state-of-the-art machine shop near Catholic University.
"Since DCTech bought all Japanese machines and put them in there, they can't be doing too much for the American machine tool builders," Gray said.
"I'm not criticizing Chalk, but research and development is just not our problem," Gray added. "The U.S. machine tool industry is already the technological leader. Our real problem is that this technology has been exported. This year 52 percent of all metal-cutting machine tools installed were manufactured overseas. The national security of the U.S. is being threatened by this volume of imported machine tools."
DCTech would be the general partner of the proposed R&D project, according to the Justice Deparment announcement. Justice added the proposed joint venture is legal under the new National Cooperative Research Act of 1984 enacted Oct. 11, which outlines how the legality of joint research and development activities is to be judged.
DCTech's machine tool center plans to contract out R&D projects to universities, independent research organiztions, machine tool manufacturers and itself.
"This is the first American machine tool research and development consortium of its kind," Chalk said. "We intend to lead the country in machine tool and related industries. It is our hope and plan that Washington become the center of high technology in the country,"
The Justice Department called the project "a $220 million research and development limited partnership in the machine tool industry." Chalk would not say where the $220 million came from or how it will be spent. "All I can tell you is that funds are available. The $220 million will become a cash fund that DCTech will distribute to the various manufacturers."
The computerized machine tools at DCTech "are on the leading edge of modern machine technology," Chalk said. He said he plans to add an engineering building to his plant which will be filled with "the most exotic equipment, which even the U.S. government doesn't have," he said. Another high-tech research center will be built by DCTech in Washington, Chalk said, but he would not disclose any details.
"We will eventually have the largest data base system in the world, " Chalk said. "This would, of course, involve everything related to defense."