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Are Product Innovation and Flexible Technology Complements?


  • Astrid Jung


REVISED ABSTRACT: This paper analyzes the interdependence between the firms’ technology choice and innovation. Previous literature argues that product flexibility and product innovation are complements, because flexible machines handle a large variety of product designs with low changeover times. In a model where technology is chosen before uncertain demand is realized, we show that long-run technology, by imposing constraints on short-run production, does not only affect the cost of innovating but also its payoff. The results coincide with the literature in that the cost of product innovation is always reduced by flexibility, but we find that the operational profits from product innovation might be decreasing in flexibility. Consequently, flexibility does not necessarily complement product innovation. Empirical evidence from the German mechanical engineering industry supports the complementarity conjecture, since random shocks tend to trigger adjustments of both decision variables in the same direction. ORIGINAL ABSTRACT: This paper revises the interdependence between flexible technology and product innovation in the context of a monopolistic firm. Previous literature argued that flexible machinery reduces the cost of incremental innovation. To take interactions beyond the fixed cost into account, we introduce a 2-period optimization model where technology, innovation and price are chosen first, then stochastic demand realizes and, finally, production is carried out. We find that flexibility increases the expected second period gain from incremental innovation in some but not all cases. Thus, the overall profit function need not be supermodular although fixed cost complementarity might be substantial. Empirical evidence from the German mechanical engineering industry suggests that fixed costs complementarity indeed does not outweigh potential adverse effects in expected operational profits. ZUSAMMENFASSUNG - (Sind Produktinnovation und flexible Technologien komplementär?) Der vorliegende Beitrag überprüft den Zusammenhang zwischen flexibler Technologie und Produktinnovation im Kontext des Monopols. Die bisherige Forschungsliteratur betonte die Eigenschaft flexibler Produktionstechnologie die Kosten für zusätzliche Innovation zu senken. Um Interaktionen über die Fixkosten hinaus zu berücksichtigen, analysieren wir ein Optimierungsmodell über zwei Perioden, in welchem zuerst die Technologie, Innovation und Preis gewählt werden, danach die stochastische Nachfrage eintritt und schließlich die Produktion stattfindet. Es zeigt sich, dass Flexibilität den erwarteten Gewinn der zweiten Periode aus zusätzlicher Innovation nicht immer steigert. Daher muss die Profitfunktion nicht notwendigerweise supermodular sein, selbst wenn die Komplementarität in den Fixkosten erheblich ist. Empirische Belege aus dem deutschen Maschinenbausektor weisen darauf hin, dass die Fixkostenkomplementarität tatsächlich nicht ausreicht um potentiell gegenläufige Effekte aus den erwarteten operativen Gewinnen zu kompensieren.]

Suggested Citation

  • Astrid Jung, 2001. "Are Product Innovation and Flexible Technology Complements?," CIG Working Papers FS IV 01-07, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), Research Unit: Competition and Innovation (CIG), revised Feb 2003.
  • Handle: RePEc:wzb:wzebiv:fsiv01-07

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. William Novshek & Lynda Thoman, 2006. "Demand for Customized Products, Production Flexibility, and Price Competition," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(4), pages 969-998, December.
    2. Gurisatti, Paolo & Soli, Vladimiro & Tattara, Giuseppe, 1997. "Patterns of Diffusion of New Technologies in Small Metal-Working Firms: The Case of an Italian Region," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 6(2), pages 275-312, March.
    3. Arora, Ashish, 1996. "Testing for complementarities in reduced-form regressions: A note," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 51-55, January.
    4. Patibandla, Murali & Chandra, Pankaj, 1998. "Organizational practices and employee performance: the case of the Canadian primary textile industry," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 37(4), pages 431-442, December.
    5. Vives, Xavier, 1986. "Commitment, flexibility and market outcomes," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 4(2), pages 217-229, June.
    6. Milgrom, Paul & Shannon, Chris, 1994. "Monotone Comparative Statics," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 62(1), pages 157-180, January.
    7. Eaton, B Curtis & Schmitt, Nicolas, 1994. "Flexible Manufacturing and Market Structure," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(4), pages 875-888, September.
    8. Epstein, Larry G, 1980. "Decision Making and the Temporal Resolution of Uncertainty," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 21(2), pages 269-283, June.
    9. Casey Ichniowski & Kathryn Shaw & Giovanna Prennushi, 1995. "The Effects of Human Resource Management Practices on Productivity," NBER Working Papers 5333, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Milgrom, Paul R & Weber, Robert J, 1982. "A Theory of Auctions and Competitive Bidding," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(5), pages 1089-1122, September.
    11. Bushnell, P Timothy & Shepard, Allen D, 1995. "The Economics of Modern Manufacturing: Comment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(4), pages 987-990, September.
    12. Xavier de Groote, 1994. "The Flexibility of Production Processes: A General Framework," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 40(7), pages 933-945, July.
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    More about this item


    Supermodularity; Flexible Technology; Product Innovation; Multi-product Firms; Demand Uncertainty; Capacity Constraints;

    JEL classification:

    • C25 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Discrete Regression and Qualitative Choice Models; Discrete Regressors; Proportions; Probabilities
    • D21 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Firm Behavior: Theory
    • D92 - Microeconomics - - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics - - - Intertemporal Firm Choice, Investment, Capacity, and Financing
    • L23 - Industrial Organization - - Firm Objectives, Organization, and Behavior - - - Organization of Production


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