Innovate, or else. It is an imperative. Its a major topic. New books are published exploring the process of innovation, the psychology of innovation. Some question whether innovation can be taught.
Its about the hard work of good design. Hard work that American middle managers are often unwilling or unable to do. As a result American products, American jobs are “offshored”. I have personally been witness to hundreds of millions of dollars of business being abandoned by companies that I worked for who forfeited their responsibility to cheaper labor markets. Who would have thought even 20 years ago that we would have to compete with a labor market that pays people $8 a day. This is not news, and its been going on for a very long time, so the toll has been devastating to the American economy.
Good design is about performance and cost. Performance is not optional. Its the minimum requirements of the product you buy. And if that performance is not adequate, or if the product fails prematurely, there should be no future sales.
So where is the innovation? Sometimes advances in material science lead to direct cost reductions in the part. But that is not usually a direct tradeoff. Sometimes the material innovation is associated with a unique process that changes the total cost of the part. Metal injection molding, for example, takes advantage of recent advances in metal formulas and makes precision casting feasible at much lower costs. Cost reductions in molding machinery contribute to smaller batch sizes at lower costs. This helps customers apply lower parts costs in situations where it was not previously possible by reducing the barrier to entry.
Innovation takes place as a result of continuous improvement. How do we make the product better? How is the product used? What features are most valued by customers? Are there features that customers would like to see added? It takes a lot of contact and communication to make sure all of that context is correctly understood and brought into the product development cycle. Comprehensive testing programs that includes field trials and evaluations can lead to great improvement.
Sometimes innovation involves applying technology from a different field. Crazy things can happen when you do that. Like using magnetic liquids to create tunable shock absorbers for cars. Or finding bacteria that can turn simple organic matter into fuel.
And then there’s just good old American grit. There are thousands of people out there who are trying to make wind mills for electric power, electric motorcycles, independent companies doing electric car conversions, all kinds of things. Because there’s a strong sense in America about making things better for everyone.
Think outside the box? There is no box!