Archive for the 'Growth' Category

Additive Manufacturing Multiplies Innovation Opportunities

Point: Additive manufacturing (also called 3D printing) technologies enable new design methods and local manufacturing by entrepreneurs.

Story:  When designing a new part to be manufactured, designers traditionally had to define the shape they wanted and then pick the material that could support that shape (based on strength, flexibility, etc.). That is, they designed the piece separate from picking the materials. For more complex products, designers had to decompose the product into semi-independent parts that were designed and manufactured separately and then assembled with screws, welding, clips, glue, and so on.  This deconstructive process risked incompatibilities between the parts, added complexity, and increased costs due to a assembly labor.

But, nature does not design in this deconstructive way. A tree trunk, limbs and leaves aren’t built separately and assembled. Rather, nature designs and grows the entire tree in a progressive, additive fashion, and largely from one material. Nature starts with a material (e.g., cellulose is the material for trees) and deploys that material in various densities, shapes, thicknesses, and modified formulations to create an integrated object.  The same basic building-block material that makes the thick rigid truck of a tree also makes the broad, flat leaves of the tree, thin flexible twigs, and hard shells of the tree’s nuts.

Additive manufacturing mimics nature (unlike traditional reductive manufacturing that removes material to make a form).  Additive manufacturing can build almost any shape that can be drawn on a computer, including hollow and contorted forms impossible to make in other ways. Specialized machines (essentially 3D printers) lay down layer after layer of material or draw with a bead of molten material to grow the part the 3D shape that was downloaded from the computer. Virtually anything that someone can imagine, draw or compute in 3D can be made with additive manufacturing.

Several competing 3D printer technologies let designers and manufacturers choose between clear resins, colored opaque thermoplastics, powered metals, and even powered ceramics.  Companies can use the technology to create prototypes, customized shapes, spare parts, and intricate parts in low quantities.  For example, Boeing used metal hybrid additive manufacturing processes and powdered metal manufacturing to create parts that reduced the weight and fuel consumption of its aircraft.

Although industrial printers like Boeing’s cost upwards of $500,000, consumer-grade printers cost only $1300.  The low price point creates a vast new opportunity for entrepreneurs to provide 3D printing services.  For example, online service company Shapeways prints any design that its customers upload, from fashion and jewelry pieces to gadgets and art. Even better, Shapeways lets is members open virtual storefronts on the site to sell their products. Some of the most popular products for sale include a PirateBay ship model, a Dymaxion world map, and a customized metal branding iron that will brand any text you want when attached to a BIC lighter. In addition, open source communities (such as MakerBot Industries, RepRap, Thingiverse) are dedicated to creating ultra-low cost printers and sharing designs for cool additive manufactured parts.

Action

  • Think about how in-house 3D printing (or in-home 3-D printing) might change your business.
  • Design new additive manufactured products based on shapes that would be “impossible to build” with traditional manufacturing.
  • Create new business models based on products or services that support additive manufacturing or that transcend the curse of economies of scale needed by traditional manufacturing

2 Comments »Entrepreneurs, Growth, Innovation, New Product Development, Opportunity, Strategy

Collaboration Curves Improve Innovation and Performance

Point: Unlike the diminishing returns of the Experience Curve, Collaboration Curves offer continuous, exponential improvement and innovation through knowledge sharing and interactions among a group of participants.

Story: Most of us have heard about the Experience Curve, which traces how a company’s rising experience in making a product leads to declining cost of that making a product.  On average, the cost declines 20-30 percent each time that a company’s experience in making that product doubles. The Experience Curve, which has been systematically studied since the 1960s, holds true across a wide range of industries.  The sad flip-side of the Experience Curve, however, is that the rate of improvement declines over time because it takes longer and longer for experience to double.  It has diminishing returns.  Can anything be done to sustain the rate of improvement? Is there another way to keep on advancing? There is: Collaboration Curves.

Collaboration — in the form of knowledge sharing and interactions among a group of participants — improves the performance of all.  Before the internet, collaboration took place primarily face to face, along with some letter-writing between participants.  For example, in the 1870s, the art movement that came to be called Impressionism arose.  A group of young painters — Claude Monet, Pierre Renoir, Camille Pissaro and others — started meeting in cafes, talking and visiting each other’s art studios. They became a collaborative group; that is, they’d share their work in progress, talk about painting techniques, experiment with colors, and help each other learn and improve.

For example, the group broke with the tradition of black shadows.  They experimented with shadows painted in purple, deep blue or a mix of other colors.  Sometimes the shadows weren’t even that dark. This was a radical idea — no one had painted shadows in a different color before, but once one of the group came upon it, others adopted it as well.  They also expanded the notions of what could be painted. The subject matter needn’t be a religious icon, mythological scene, portrait of a nobleman or an allegorical landscape — it could be something as simple as a haystack or water lilies, painted over and over at different times or day or different seasons, showing how the light and color changes with the times and seasons.  Combining their experiences accelerated the Impressionists’ innovations in color, composition, brushwork, and subject matter.

Today, these collaborative groups can extend online, enabling people to talk and share with others anywhere, any time, thereby greatly — indeed exponentially — improving the group’s capacity to produce.  In the old model, the experience of any one person (or company) grew linearly with time, which created an Experience Curve with diminishing returns.  But a collaborating group can multiply experiences by combining lessons from the successes and failures of all to create a Collaboration Curve that sustains performance improvement.  The internet, social media, and collaboration platforms greatly enhance the Collaboration Curve by increasing the number of people who can collaborate, increasing the geographic span of people who can collaborate, and increasing the access to the accumulated experience of the collaborative group.

Collaboration Curves were first identified by John Hagel, who heads consulting firm Deloitte’s Center for the Edge in Silicon Valley.  “We’re seeing the emergence of a new kind of learning curve as we scale connectivity and learning, rather than scaling efficiency,” says Hagel in his Harvard Business Review blog (coauthored with John Seely Brown and Lang Davison).  “Collaboration curves hold the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.”

So far, examples of internet-enabled Collaboration Curves are more anecdotal rather than rigorous because of their nascency.  But Hagel has found that collaborative environments like the popular online game World of Warcraft offer participants a way to continue improving beyond what individuals could accomplish alone.  In the business world, similar collaboration curves take place on SAP’s software developer sites, and large open source projects such as the Eclipse Foundation.  What’s exciting is that “Collaboration curves may reverse the diminishing returns dynamics of the experience curve and deliver increasing returns to performance instead,” Hagel says.  The opportunity for interactions among the many participants lets performance continue improving through the continuing contributions of ideas by other participants.

Action: Hagel found that there are three prerequisites for these online collaboration groups to work and generate the Collaboration Curve effect.

  • Attract Participants: First, you need people. That’s pretty obvious, that you need people to make this work. But what’s exciting is that the people don’t all have to be talking or active all the time – it’s perfectly ok to begin by just being an observer who lurks and learns from others. Indeed, in SAP’s software developer network (SAP SDN), most participants do just that — learning by reading the discussion forums before they contribute anything themselves.
  • Interact: to get better results, you start interacting with others, in discussions — in person or online — sharing experiences, making suggestions, giving feedback. The more interactions, the faster the performance improvement.
  • A supportive, multi-layered environment: Supportive means friendly and online.  It also means that the technology supports the interaction through discussion boards, archives, live chats, video.  Interaction must be easy not only among peers but among all cross-cutting groups. Digital infrastructure lowers interaction costs, enabling large, diverse groups of people to share information and learn from each other, driving performance improvements for all.

13 Comments »Growth, How-to, Innovation, Productivity, Social Media

The Search for Innovations

Point:  Use roving cross-functional teams to hunt for promising new product and service ideas.

Story:
In a world of large organizations and diverse global hotspots for R&D, innovation occurs everywhere.  Companies can tap those innovations through search processes, which may be cheaper and more effective than only using traditional “start from square one” R&D efforts.  The rationale: there may be no need to re-invent the wheel if the wheel already exists somewhere inside (or outside) your organization.

Here’s how multinationals General Mills and Whirlpool approached the search for innovations. General Mills formed two “innovation squads” consisting of six-to-eight employees selected from multiple functions. The squads are tasked with hunting for ideas from inside and outside the organization – one squad focuses on finding ideas internally, the other focuses on looking outside the organization.  The squads present the best ideas they’ve found to division heads. Once a quarter, the squads give their top 10 ideas to the company chairman.

For example, one squad found a patent for a new method of encapsulating calcium. The patent had been donated to a university. The squad converted it into a very successful new line of orange juice with added calcium that doesn’t taste chalky.

Similarly, Whirlpool designates some employees as innovation mentors – “i-mentors” – training them in innovation and tasking them with identifying promising new product ideas from across the organization. Whirlpool has 1000 i-mentors globally.  Most of the individuals self-identified and asked for the training, which consists of a formal training program that creates a common language for innovation and embeds innovation into an organizational competency the way Six Sigma training does. Whirlpool developed “how-to” guides for its innovators, including analysis of who has contact with whom [network analysis].

Action:

  • Explicitly designate individuals or teams to look for innovations
  • Provide innovation training to these cross-functional teams
  • Cast a wide net when searching for good ideas
  • Filter, refine, and present the best ideas for funding/implementation decisions

Sources:

“Unleashing Innovation,” Research-Technology Management, http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_6714/is_1_52/ai_n31337091/

Mason Carpenter and Sanjyot P. Dunung, “Harnessing the Engine of Global Innovation” in International Business, Flatworld Knowledge, August 2011 http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/pub/international-business/524265#web-524265

Jessie Scanlon, “How Whirlpool Puts New Ideas Through the Wringer,” http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/aug2009/id2009083_452757.ht

Peter Erickson, “Innovating on Innovation” Keynote Presentation at the Front End of Innovation Conference, Boston, MA, May 2009

No Comments »Case study, Growth, How-to, Innovation, International, New Product Development, R&D

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