Pennsylvania Manufacturers Hear the Innovation Challenge

By December 26, 2006Taking It for Granted

I was with some manufactures in Colorado Springs a while back. They had gotten together for the first time to talk about how they might be more effective as a business community after a lot of them were hammered by the downdraft in electronics earlier in this decade. I thought it was interesting that they identified as their top goal ways to be more innovative.

Fly across the country now to Pennsylania and that same topic is on the minds of Keystone State manufacturers. A recent issue of PA Manufacturer had a very good article about the innovation imperative. Appropriately enough, it is titled, “Open Your Mind to Innovation: See How Formalizing Innovation Can Create a Whole Other Paradigm for Your Manufacturing Outfit.”

This article, by Evan Pattak, shows how companies can build innovation into their other processes and faults those executives who only think innovation is sparked by a eureka moment and not cultivated. They take a look into Wilton Armetale in Lancaster County that got a group of employees together for their “Skunk Works” meeting to brainstorm about “off-the-wall product and distribution concepts.” Ken Lefever, the company’s president and CEO, says “One of our rules is: no idea is a bad idea. We don’t laugh at it. Skunk Works determines if we will move forward.”

While this sounds like something everyone would do to envision their next generation of products and processes, it appears that what Wilton Armetale is doing is somewhat unique. The PA Manufacturer article says that too many companies are only focused on controlling costs and too few have an innovation process that should include these elements:

* talk to customers about current products to gain insight on how they might be improved or where there is gap
* measure results such as time to market for a new product or set a revenue goal
* question everything; an outside facilitator might be useful so a company can think out of the box.
* create a culture of innovation by being open to suggestions from all parts of the company
* designate a process change leader.

If you want to read the whole article, click here and go to page 6.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • David Anderson says:

    As Bill Canis noted on December 26, The Colorado Springs Manufacturing Task Force has been working to elevate

    * The Knowledge that manufacturers require to be competitive on a global playing field,

    * Marketing capabilities for the community and individual firms, supporting the attraction of progressive organizations while actively seeking export opportunities.

    * Manufacturing Excellence with lean, workforce development and other world-class operating performance benchmarks.

    * Innovation Support, with the understanding that collaboration – the joining of process knowledge and market opportunity is the root of new product and new market development.

    Our group also recognizes that trade policy is an arena we need action and support, for innovative products and processes are as easily transferred to low cost countries as are the older, low-technology products. As innovation is dependent on process knowledge, our economy is on a slippery slope due to acceleration of technology transfer. R&D is moving rapidly to Asia because innovation flourishes where production resides.

    As one of my colleagues noted recently, innovation is not THE elixir for current ills. Domestic manufacturers need to have a level playing field, including recognition of the environmental control, other regulatory and safety, intellectual property and labor laws that do not apply to much of what has increasingly been imported as a substitute for domestic production. Innovation is a key element in sustaining the American economy, but meaningful production quantities are what will lift more of the boats. Effective trade policy will assure that more firms obtain a return on innovative investment risks and that more people off-shore receive a living wage. There is an appropriate structure for a “Race to the Top.”

    David Anderson
    Colorado Springs Manufacturing Task Force