True innovators are leaders. They take the risk. They are not sheep who are swayed by popular opinion. They are the first to try out new concepts. And most importantly they are not afraid to fail.
Common sense also tells us that to do something different, or improve on what you have already we need people, time and money. Ah! Unfortunately not something a lot manufacturing companies have going spare. So how do we get around this dilemma?
The one type of innovation that all manufacturing organisations will be aware of, and most probably involved with is Product Innovation. Investing in Research and Development to improve on existing product offerings, or to create a market changing product that will disrupt the industry. A must for most manufacturers that want to survive and thrive over the next decade. One of the downsides to only investing in product innovation is, particularly with the current market conditions, is copying. You put all that time, money and effort in and someone copies your idea. There are patent laws to protect this but in some countries difficult to police and enforce.
Here are few other types of innovation that are often overlooked in manufacturing that may provide a few ideas for the future.
1. Process Innovation – the methods and activities within your operations should be continually improving year on year. The way you ‘do things’ will change over the next decade, so innovation in this area of manufacturing will be a must. Here are a few examples of process innovation:
a. Lean Manufacturing – ensure ALL people within your organisation are focused on the customer and are striving to improve performance by continually removing waste from within the organisation. The best articles on Lean Manufacturing can be found here, on the Futurestate Solutions Blog. :-)
b. ERP Systems – have a robust Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software system that automates and integrates your business processes, which should in turn improve visibility and manufacturing performance.
c. The Internet of Things (IoT) – connecting your equipment and products to software using wi-fi and bluetooth. Providing you with real time data on current performance, thus enabling you to make intelligent decisions, rather than react to situations.
d. Automation / Lights Out Manufacturing – looking for ways to automate processes to remove manual labour from loading / unloading and operating equipment, enabling you to run equipment unmanned.
e. 3D Printing – using the latest 3D printing technology to reduce prototyping time and costs for new product development. Also producing products within minutes rather than days/weeks reducing lead times on customer deliveries.
2. Business Model Innovation – gaining a deep understanding of your customers and the market will provide insights into what you should present as your value proposition and also how you could deliver value to your customers, enabling you to maximise opportunities for increased profit margins. A great book that has changed the business model design market is Business Model Generation. Well worth a read.
3. Collaborative Innovation – utilising your network of connections to choose partners that will improve your offering and increase the level of value you provide to your customers. In competitive markets collaborative offers can differentiate you from your competitors, usually at a low cost. A great example of this exists in the Midlands, the MAN Group, a collaboration of 10 manufacturing businesses working together to win contracts they could not tender for on their own. You also have the Manufacturers Alliance, groups of manufacturing leaders coming together to support each other in personal development and improving their business growth.
4. Frugal Innovation – this is definitely one of my favourites, doing more with less. Frugal innovation has been developed in countries where resources and cash are scarce and focuses on providing solutions to problems at very little cost. A great video here by Navi Radjou ‘Creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits’ providing a number of fantastic examples.
5. Service Innovation – manufacturing company’s today need to provide more than just a product, service level expectations have increased over the years and being innovate in this area can improve customer relationships… without touching your products. Amplify the value of your products by enhancing a service or bolting a completely new service to it. Think how Apple changed the mobile device market. Purchasing an iPad or a Mac is a user focused experience, that mostly leaves the buyer feeling well looked after and appreciated as a customer. Check out Apple's latest thinking on how App's are changing our world.
6. Brand Innovation – how are you perceived by your customers and how do you make them feel? Brand innovation will help you define your personality in the market and help you stand out from the crowds. You can read an article I wrote a couple of years ago here on ‘Why Manufacturers Should Embrace Branding’
7. Intrapreneurial Innovation – you’ve heard of an entrepreneur, well how about an intrapreneur? An intrapreneur is someone who acts like an entrepreneur but is not the owner or leader of a business, albeit they show all the same traits. Are you providing the right environment for intrapreneurs within your organisation or are they perceived trouble makers? Richard Branson’s thoughts on intrapreneurship.
I will leave you with a couple of questions…
Do you know where the performance gap is in your organisation?
Could exploring new innovation approaches help to drive your business forward?