Innovation can be a scary thing. For companies built on order, predictability, and success, innovation can be unsettling. It can be messy, unpredictable, and prone to failure before producing a demonstrable payback. But innovation is vital. Without it, there can be no evolutionary growth or sustained success in most industries.
For years, innovation has been a generic buzzword that many forward-thinking organizations like to throw about. What exactly is it? As a concept, it refers to the process an individual or organization undertakes to conceptualize brand-new products, processes, and ideas or to approach existing products, processes, and ideas in new ways.
Innovation in Industry Offers Three Advantages
1. Innovation helps organizations grow.
Rethinking your business, products, or your business model is a proven process that can lead to rapid expansion and enable you to quickly scale your business.
2. Innovation keeps organizations relevant.
The world is constantly changing, and for your company to remain profitable and relevant it must adapt and evolve to keep pace.
3. Innovation provides differentiation.
Innovation is about doing something differently. If your organization and its products are me-too, the marketplace has no way of telling you apart from your competition. Innovation provides a competitive advantage.
In many workplace cultures, there is a traditional conflict between engineering and management. To engineers used to thinking outside the box, great ideas seem obvious and even intuitive, worthy of development. But to management -- sometimes more comfortable with the predictable status quo -- those same ideas could appear as risky and too expensive, encouraging organizational inertia. So what’s a company to do?
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How to Innovate Successfully
According to business consulting firm KPMG, there are three steps to innovating successfully:
1. Build an innovation culture.
This means encouraging new ideas and embracing failure because failure provides opportunities to learn.
2. Build innovative solutions in collaboration with the business.
Innovation cannot happen in a vacuum. For great ideas to reach production and, ultimately, the market, they must be financially and developmentally doable. In other words, can an innovative product be reliable and manufactured efficiently at a price point the marketplace is willing to pay?
3. Acquire, partner, or invest in new technologies.
Technology is the engine that drives virtually every product development and manufacturing process. If your organization doesn’t have the technology needed to produce, maintain, and grow your innovations, you need to obtain it.
Selling Innovative Ideas Internally and Externally
To nurture a culture of innovation, you must live in an idea meritocracy – a workplace environment in which the best idea has to win, regardless of the creator’s title or tenure. From a technical perspective, you want the best idea and approach to win based on data and research.
Sometimes it’s difficult to sell these ideas internally from a financial perspective. Many innovative products are created based solely on making a product that gives the user a better experience and the company an advantage over its competitors. Sometimes those products turn out to be more costly to manufacture, which might be a hard sell to management. However, if engineering and manufacturing collaborate efficiently with the business side, an effective case can be made for selling the highly-desirable product to a willing market at a higher ASP and profit. Innovation wins.
When a business creates a framework for making product development decisions, it’s important to give high value to innovation and enable teams to explore new approaches for creating new products. It helps to utilize data insights and common language packaged in ways that are easily understood and useful across the entire organization, enabling innovation to thrive.
Engineering and Manufacturing Want to be More Innovative
Engineering and manufacturing professionals, because of who they are and what they do, have a desire for innovation and creativity. Cutting-edge, agile engineering design, and manufacturing processes enable streamlined product development and faster, more efficient production.
Sophisticated tools such as the new set of surface intelligence solutions now available can provide the accurate data and language vital for innovating with advanced and new materials. New measurement and data-sharing technologies, along with the tools to turn information into insight, increase opportunities for creating lighter, stronger, more durable, and advanced products.
Gone are the days when data would be generated in the lab and the information it provided stayed there, often languishing in a dusty database instead of being utilized in a proactive, timely manner to help inform product development and improvement.
How These New Tools Helped the Best Idea Win
Sometimes companies must change the way they build their process, material, or workflow to implement an innovative idea. A good example of this is a company that manufactures polycarbonate clips that are adhered to a tube. They needed to combine a rigid outside with soft materials underneath in a clip able to withstand harsh environments while remaining strongly adhered.
The strategy was to plasma-treat the materials and then store them in plastic bags for a period of time. However, the plastic bags were transferring a slip agent to the clip surface, ruining the processing of the materials and creating poor adhesion. The manufacturer used surface intelligence data to determine the problem and quickly changed their process to eliminate the use of the storage bags. Using a plasma treatment was a great idea; what the company lacked was a more thorough understanding of the surface and how to better control it throughout the entire manufacturing process to avoid creating less-than-optimal adhesion conditions.
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Creating a Culture of Innovation Makes Companies More Competitive
When businesses operate in a competitive market, they tend to build better products, customers have better experiences, and employees get to flex their creative muscles if they work in a culture of innovation.
Innovation is beneficial for both the business and its employees. With time, an innovative culture becomes self-sustaining because the benefits become more obvious. This, in turn, attracts better talent eager to develop better products. And that makes a business more competitive and more successful.
Learn how surface intelligence enables businesses to innovate with confidence and gain a competitive advantage. Download the eBook to read more: The Advanced Guide to Transforming Product Development Through Surface Intelligence Data & Technology.