Innovation needs to be more than a buzzword that companies use to build an image. Innovation needs to be managed in an aggressive and savvy manner, so that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can turn their very important problems and opportunities into profitable growth. Recognizing this critical management need, the Federal government’s NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership
(MEP) network has partnered with Eureka! Ranch and Merwyn Research to help companies understand and implement a structured Innovation Engineering Management System
(IEMS) that helps companies to accelerate the process of creating, communicating, and commercializing innovation.
“While MEP will continue to help companies improve their operations through lean and continuous improvement, it has been recognized that innovation provides the surest route to high growth rates and higher margins”, says Joe Jacomet, President of PolymerOhio. “We at PolymerOhio have for many years encouraged our companies to think hard about value added and move away from ‘commodity’ type products.” Jacomet added, “This is an exciting transition MEP is undertaking and we look forward to playing a major role in helping polymer companies proactively innovate and commercialize new, meaningfully unique products.”
To date, four PolymerOhio staff members have attended an introductory course at the Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute
(IELI) to learn the IEMS approach. “A typical training event might include up to 350 people, including representatives of major local companies, MEP organizations, economic development groups, and Edison Technology Development Centers (such as PolymerOhio),” says Salman Farooq, PolymerOhio Vice President for Capital and Global Markets. MEP is always and sponsor of these training events.
The February 2012 IELI, as with all IELI training sessions, featured professional inventor, Doug Hall, a marketing guru who spent several decades with Proctor & Gamble in new product development. Hall and the University of Maine created the conference content. “Hall clearly articulated that innovation is the way to go and that innovation is no longer optional,” said Farooq. “Hall said that when a company’s offered services are meaningfully unique, then employees are proud and motivated, management grows increasingly optimistic, and everyone makes more money.” Hall said that companies with an innovation culture realize greater sales and profit, even in today’s economy.
The Innovation Engineering System presented at the IELI contains three components, which attendees explored in detail:
1. How to create meaningfully unique ideas.
2. How to communicate with greater clarity.
3. How to commercialize projects faster.
Create. “With a treasure chest of tools a company or organization could use to stimulate creative thinking, the training process coach takes small groups through exercises to demonstrate the tools and expose attendees to available resources. All of these tools feed into stimulus mining, which leads to coming up with meaningfully unique ideas,” said Farooq. “The system encourages diversity of thinking styles that work together to create new product concepts. There needs to be cross-pollination; it drives creativity and fresh, solid ideas.”
Communicate. “This approach forces people to think how their product / service is meaningfully unique. What are the problems that a customer will pay more money to solve? How can innovation leaders effectively market the product / service to convince organization leadership that it will have a significantly positive impact on top line,” said Farooq.
Commercialize. “Here we were taught how to forecast at an early stage, which would be realistic and also help reduce risk, plus some tricks on how to ‘fail fast and fail cheap’. An organization doesn’t have to sit and work on developing a perfect plan; there is no such thing,” said Farooq. “The ‘perfect plan’ in the real world immediately starts to change. We were taught to not fear risk, but rather to calculate it, mitigate it, and then lower it. To speed commercialization, attendees were also taught a disciplined management system of defining, discovering, developing, and delivering innovation. Kevin Cunningham, PolymerOhio Manager, Outreach Programs, who also has been trained at IELI, said that during training it was commonly said that “Innovation success involves you being willing to publicly admit to three tiny things… 1) I don’t know, 2) I need help, and 3) I fail a lot; doing this may have been the hardest (and ultimately most useful) part for some of us.”
Kirbie Earley, PolymerOhio Manager MEP Programs, is advancing through the training and said, “Innovation Engineering will be a new tool that PolymerOhio adds to our toolset to assist our companies in growing jobs and investments. We deal with innovative companies every day, so this is a natural fit and a much faster, proven method of helping them get to commercialization.” She added, “PolymerOhio will introduce Innovation Engineering to the Ohio polymer industry at this year’s Ohio Polymer Summit, scheduled for June 6 and 7 at the Embassy Suites in Dublin, Ohio. Among other industry-related topics, this year’s summit will feature 2 one-day Innovation Engineering sessions.”
Innovation Engineering Management System concepts are not new; they started with W. Edwards Deming and his colleagues decades ago. Companies like Owens Corning, General Electric, P&G, and others have been following these concepts with success stories along the way. Cunningham noted that during the training, a Deming quote was often mentioned: “It’s your job to make them able, 94 percent of failures are due to the system and 6% are due to the worker.” “IEMS has taken proven concepts and reshaped them and augmented them with additional tools for today’s needs,” Farooq said.
The next step after the introductory IELI training is an intensive three days of Black Belt training to gain expertise and become an innovation coach. PolymerOhio has four staff that have attended Black Belt instruction and are in the process of completing coursework that will lead to certification. The staff includes Joe Jacomet, Kirbie Earley, Salman Farooq, and Kevin Cunningham. “Our ultimate goal here is to have experienced Black Belts among our staff, which can focus solely on innovation, and apply this institutionalized process for SMEs in the polymer industry,” said Farooq.
Dave Levine, Executive Vice President of Consulting Services from TechSolve, Inc
., (also an Ohio Edison Center) is one of seven people from TechSolve getting certified on Innovation Engineering. “For many years, TechSolve has helped organizations implement process improvements and lean manufacturing practices to reduce bottom line costs and free up capacity,” Levine said. “With the implementation of an IEMS, companies can now begin to leverage the capacity improvements achieved by Lean and grow their pipeline of new products faster and with less risk, enabling them to increase top line revenues and grow their business. IEMS allows for a true culture of innovation to be created.”
MEP as an organization is primed to assist U.S. manufacturers become competitive globally and grow. MEP feels strongly that innovation is going to be the leading route by which American companies can realize the level of manufacturing greatness that our nation has historically enjoyed. MEP’s byline for this initiative is Reigniting American Innovation and Growth. The State of Ohio, through the Development Services Agency, is a leading MEP Center nationally. In addition, the Edison Centers of Technology are major contributors to the State of Ohio’s MEP Center and will play a major role in support of the State’s innovation initiative. PolymerOhio is poised to take a lead role in bringing this innovation system to the polymer industry in Ohio.
The Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute (IELI) uses advanced education programs and digital tools that build confidence in your ability to lead the creation, communication and commercialization of meaningfully unique ideas. Graduates of the program are experiencing increased speed and decreased risk by 30 to 80 percent in their innovation systems. The program is developed, continuously refined and delivered through an alliance between the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) network, Eureka! Ranch, and Merwyn Research.
The Innovation Engineering Management System (IEMS) accelerates a continuous ?ow of innovations - big and small to address the very important problems and opportunities arising in departments, divisions, and companies. Major innovation projects have a dramatic impact on sales and pro?t. Minor projects help transform the culture. The System uses a four-stage process of De?ne, Discover, Develop, and Deliver. It integrates painlessly with classic project management systems such as Compression Planning, Stage-Gate, Design for 6 Sigma, or Hoshin Planning.
PolymerOhio, Inc. is a polymer industry-specific Ohio Edison Technology Center, which is funded by the Ohio Economic Development Agency. PolymerOhio focuses on enhancing the global competitiveness of the polymer industry, including companies from the plastics, rubber, bioproducts, and advanced materials segments. For more information, go to http://www.polymerohio.org.
Cincinnati-based TechSolve implements business and process improvement solutions for organizations in need of rapid and sustainable fixes for productivity and operational inefficiencies. Over the past 25 years, TechSolve has helped thousands of organizations in driving improvements to positively affect top-line revenues and bottom-line cost savings. Through its team of experts, TechSolve provides affordable, innovative solutions to today's problems. Services include: Growth Services, Energy Services (E3), Enterprise Transformation, Performance Based Training, Supplier Development and a Membership Program of over 300 industrial organizations. TechSolve is located at 6705 Steger Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45237. For more information visit: www.TechSolve.org.