Are We Innovating Fast Enough?
Innovation is an ongoing challenge to business and technology leadership within various ceramic manufacturing and research environments.
Last November, I had the chance to attend FabTech, a manufacturing conference and exhibition. One of North America’s largest manufacturing events, FabTech provides a convenient “one-stop shop” venue where you can meet with world-class suppliers; see the latest industry products and developments; and find the tools to improve productivity, increase profits, and discover new solutions for manufacturing needs (in this case, for metal forming, fabricating, welding and finishing needs). Products and suppliers from the U.S. and other parts of the world, including Italy, Germany, Japan, and China, just to name a few, were prominent. With the high caliber of speakers and displays of manufacturing automation, this was clearly an impressive show of world-class manufacturing innovation.
It is this word—innovation—that catches my attention. I was struck by the scale of innovation, and this causes me to ask the question, “Are we innovating fast enough?” This question is important, not just to get to the “yes” or “no” answer, but to be an ongoing challenge to business and technology leadership within various ceramic manufacturing and research environments.
Process of Innovation
When we look at the importance of innovation, it becomes clear that one of the keys to successful manufacturing and business is the ability to generate and bring new ideas to our process and products. Innovation is vital in order to keep operations and products fresh, which is how companies gain or maintain competitive advantage. The ability to do this is what I call the process of innovation.
Why is innovation important and why should ceramic and glass manufacturing leadership continuously concern themselves with their company’s speed of innovation? Amitabh Shukla, an entrepreneurial blogger, gives us a starting point:
Innovation may be defined as exploiting new ideas leading to the creation of a new product, process or service. It is not just the invention of a new idea that is important, but it is actually “bringing it to market,” putting into practice and exploiting it in a manner that leads to new products, [manufacturing processes], services or systems that add value or improve quality. It possibly involves technological transformation. Innovation also means exploiting new technology and employing out-of-the-box thinking to generate new value and to bring about significant changes in society.1
As such, innovation proactively seeks new ideas, new ways of thinking and continuous improvement. Innovation looks beyond current capabilities, products, and processes, and seeks modernization, improvement, and advancement. A key word here is proactive. Companies that proactively focus on innovation have a better chance of impacting their bottom line, their productivity and competitiveness. As Steve Eddy and Barry Misthal point out in PwC’s “Global Innovation Survey,” “The most innovative manufacturing companies managed a 38% increase in revenues over the past three years. That’s nearly four times the rate of growth of the least innovative companies in the sector.”2
Company leadership in ceramic and glass manufacturing should reflect on two critical criteria when considering their company’s innovation processes: creating and maintaining a culture of innovation, and developing the appropriate metrics to measure innovation progress. Having a culture of innovation helps the organization know that being innovative should always be a part of the company’s DNA. Innovation is not limited to research and development—it is part of design, manufacturing process development, and manufacturing problem solving.
In addition, an innovation culture is process oriented. That is, processes are in place to manage innovation. For example, when projects are implemented that focus on improving a production process or R&D, the organization uses a process to monitor results, performance, and outcomes. This way, decisions can be made as to whether the project should continue or be canceled.
The future requires companies to push for innovation in their technology areas, which creates the need to determine if we are getting the best return on investment during the process of innovation. Thus, metrics are important in managing innovation projects. As researchers at the INSEAD Innovation and Policy Initiative point out, “A set of measurement tools has to be put in place, and most importantly a unified and standard way of assessing projects. Companies should define a scoring methodology that takes into account financial, strategic and risk perspectives to support and standardize the evaluation of projects.”3
Ceramic manufacturing will continue to be highly competitive and require ongoing innovation of products and processes. The continuous improvement process mentality of looking at the urgency of innovation requires focus, along with a culture of innovation and a required system of measurement.
1. Shukla, A., “What is Innovation? Why Innovation is Important?” www.paggu.com/getting-into-roots/what-is-innovation-why-innovation-is-important.
2. Eddy, Steve and Misthal, Barry, “Rethinking Innovation in Industrial Manufacturing-Are You Up for the Challenge?” PwC, www.pwc.com/gx/en/industrial-manufacturing/publications/pdf/pwc-rethinking-innovation-in-industrial-manufacturing-are-you-up-for-the-challenge.pdf.
3. Mahroum, S. and Bascavusoglu-Moreau, Elif, “Innovation Metrics and KPIs: Are You Getting What You Pay For?” INSEAD Innovation and Policy Initiative, https://knowledge.insead.edu/strategy/innovation-metrics-and-kpis-are-you-getting-what-you-pay-for-4386.
Any views or opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not represent those of Ceramic Industry, its staff, Editorial Advisory Board or BNP Media.