Beyond a phenomenal understanding of the market, visionary growth strategies, and value-driven customer focus, what makes a manufacturing organization truly stand out in today’s landscape is the ability to innovate.
Likewise, it’s the ability to innovate that can ensure business continuity and propel your company further into a future where you have to be digitally adaptive, agile, and flexible. It goes without saying, but now more than ever, it’s of utmost importance to imbue your corporate culture with the spirit of innovation.
The best way to start doing that is by debunking the myth that innovative leaps have to come solely and directly from the CEO. While this is true in many cases, it’s not a general rule. In fact, innovation is truly rewarding and sustained if it’s driven via the people by inspiring and empowering employees to promote this spirit.
So, in order to start fostering a culture of innovation, you should first:
- Raise awareness and sensitize employees to the power of innovation and its opportunities
- Motivate your employees to engage in innovative endeavors alongside their daily activities
- Provide the information, structures, spaces, training, and tools that can help your employees improve their innovative skills
Once you understand the basics of the initial phase and remove the misconception that management alone is responsible for innovation, you should consider the following recommendations to achieve real transformation.
1. Understand the difference between invention and innovation
To put it simply, innovation leverages invention—on a commercial scale. You don’t have to invent anything new to get ahead of the curve.
Think about the electric bulb, for example. While it is a great invention, the innovative thing about it was the ability to produce it in bulk and serve it to customers around the globe.
That’s how you should approach your innovation strategy as well. Don’t expect to create anything revolutionary overnight. Instead, find a unique, unprecedented way to add value to what you are already doing.
To facilitate this goal, think of the most favorable atmosphere for your company’s innovations and provide it to your employees. Additionally, you should consider factors such as design, engineering, and production to give new life to your products and motivate your workers to focus their efforts in that direction.
2. Keep an eye on the latest trends
New advancements in technology not only revolutionize the industry as a whole, but they can also transform the way you work and support your innovative endeavors. If any of the following trends in manufacturing pique your interest, consider implementing them to transform your company into a smart factory:
- Virtual manufacturing—The ability to manufacture something virtually can help you save time and resources otherwise wasted on guesswork and uninformed decision-making. Virtual manufacturing enables your team to perform operations digitally through visual, near-animated processes. Boeing has already hopped on this trend by incorporating augmented reality in its assembly processes with the help of Google Glass and Skylight software.
- Industrial robotics—This technology can be easily programmed and thanks to its constant advancements, it can also be customized to do more than just a single, repetitive job. For example, the robotic glove created by General Motors has been customized for NASA’s factory workers. They can use this glove on the International Space Station while reducing arm strains and strengthening the grip for heavy-lifting.
- Automated warehouses and smart recycling—Imagine a team of robots that can empty, transport, and replace batches of products in your warehouse. It’s not only possible, but it’s already happening in the Ocado Warehouse, where diligent robots can pack up to 65,000 grocery orders per week. Another diligent robot, Apple’s Daisy, can deconstruct iPhones and repurpose the materials, enabling users to easily discard their smart devices and reducing resource waste.
- 3D printing—With this technology, you can bring a product to the market faster. Plus, a robot arm like MX3D simplifies the manufacturing process by printing and constructing complicated metalwork in mid-air, from any angle.
- Exoskeletons for work safety—Similar to the robot glove, this wearable technology can protect workers and boost their strength. For example, the Ekso vest was specifically designed to help factory workers reduce fatigue during the workday, enabling them to prevent injuries and lift heavy objects they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to handle.
Implementing any of the technologies mentioned above is the perfect way to introduce robots into your organization without depriving humans of their jobs. Additionally, by adopting new technologies you can easily gain an innovative edge that goes beyond completing your daily operations more efficiently and proving your adaptive valiance in the market. Such a forward-thinking approach will create much-needed space for creative thinking, new ideas, and fresh opportunities that can help you innovate further.
3. Rethink collaboration
Innovation is not going to happen in isolation. New technology alone isn’t enough to keep you on top of the game in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The key to making innovation happen is effective collaboration. While this can be applied to humans and machines as well, it’s important not to overlook the potential of collaboration among leaders from different industries and among factory teams.
Collaboration enables cross-disciplinary fertilization—which is vital to generating new ideas. So, you need to think outside the box, step out of your comfort zone, and:
- Challenge yourself with knowledge outside of your area of expertise
- Test your preconceptions and dare to think outrageous ideas
- Develop the inspiration you find into true innovation
This strategy applies not only to a management level but on the production floor as well. Encourage your employees to collaborate so that they can build consensus, coach junior members, experiment, and achieve innovative results.
The willingness to work together and generate new ideas can unlock tremendous power. Just imagine the outcomes you can experience by bringing manufacturers, customers, and suppliers together. So, consider leveraging the expertise of external partners to accelerate speed to market, increase operational productivity, and capture the value residing in resource ownership.
Are you ready to foster innovation?
The manufacturing industry is changing at a rapid pace. The companies that will be able to keep up are those who can adapt and innovate in real time. Will you be one of them?
Embracing this reality is the first step towards fostering innovative thinking. And once you establish a culture of innovation with the help of the three tips in this article, don’t forget to also sustain it for the long-run.