Published: Tuesday 15 November 1994

Small and medium-sized companies are probably in for a better time, with Germany's Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft setting up a branch in Michigan. The group, which has conducted research worth $648 million, stresses on links between universities and industries, especially smaller firms. "We want to work with the Fraunhofer model because it has proved to be of great help in the small- and the medium-sized sectors," says an John McTague, vice-president for technical affairs at the Ford Motor Company and head of Fraunhofer USA's national advisory council.

The Tokyo-based Shimizu Construction has developed a computerised vibration-control system that reduces the effects of typhoons on skyscrapers. When hit by strong gusts of wind, the buildings sway dangerously, causing symptoms similar to seasickness among the inmates. Now, computers will activate a large rectangular weight, supported by 4 pillars made of layers of rubber, which move in the opposite direction of the buildings' movements. This system was installed in a 200 metre-high building and when Japan was recently ravaged by storms, the degree of fluctuation was reduced by two-thirds, declared Shimizu.

Energis, the long-distance phone company in the UK, promises to make telephoning a whole new experience. It has introduced a multiline box for customers using at least 4 lines, which routes all national calls over the Energis network and records phone use. Customers receive a monthly report that lists the average time taken to answer the phone and the number of calls lost. This prompts firms to react quickly to calls. According to the Audit Commission -- a public sector watchdog -- it has helped reduce unanswered calls to less than half.

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