Archive for the 'New Product Development' 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

Make Your Product a Narrative — #BIF7

Point:  Technology and innovation enable greater customer engagement through open-ended customizations, apps, add-on, and social features.

Story: At BIF7, John Hagel, author of The Power of Pull, highlighted what he saw as a distinction between story vs. narrative. A story is complete, self-contained, and has a beginning, middle, and end. Stories have audiences: people who passively consume the story.  In contrast, Hagel defined a “narrative” as an open-ended, unfolding sequence that continues into the future.  Narratives frame the world and the people in it.  Under this definition, narratives create participants: active co-creators in the evolving timeline of current and future events.  Whether you agree or disagree with Hagel’s particular choice of words, the key is in the interesting distinction between a closed-ended tale and an open-ended dialogue — and what that distinction means for product innovation..

Although Hagel didn’t say so directly, the concept of story v. narrative can be applied to product innovation: some products are like stories and some are like narratives. Some products are meant to simply be bought and consumed, like the beginning-middle-end of a story.  It’s a “once upon a time, someone used the product and they lived happily ever after” story.

In contrast, other products are like narratives, in which purchasing the product is just the start of a long series of interactions with that product, with related products, and even with other people. Such products let people customize, individualize, and enhance the product. Customers can tap into an ecosystem of add-ons, apps, tracking, feedback, and engagement. Customers can interact with other customers or with the company’s services for on-going enhancements.  In short, the customer joins the narrative and extends it, too..

The most obvious example of the narrative-style product is the Apple iPhone, with its “there’s an app for that” opportunities for customization and engagement. Similarly, Nike converted a consumer good — shoes — into narrative-driven product with strong participant engagement through Nike+.  A sensor in the shoe and wireless connection to an iPhone, iPod, or special watch lets users of its shoes track their exercise. People can then share their runs with others, participate in virtual races, and learn about great running routes from others..

Technology enables more and more of these kinds of narrative products. Companies can now leverage low cost or existing electronics (e.g., smartphones), low-cost software, and low-cost web/cloud services to create an ongoing customizable social experience.  Companies can also use existing social platforms (like FourSquare, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to create a narrative environment for their product or service.

Action:

  • Is your product like a closed-ended tale or can you make it like an open-ended dialogue with your customers?
  • Create a brand to encompasses the customer (vs. simply defining the product or the company)
  • Create optional tracking or feedback that lets customers record their piece of the narrative.
  • Create optional add-ons or apps that support customization or ongoing enhancements.
  • Create an ecosystem of partners and encourage open innovation around a narrative product platform.
  • Create social engagement that lets customers not just use the product but also interact with the people behind the product and the other users of the product.

No Comments »Customers, Innovation, New Product Development, 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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