Manufacturing Tries to Stay Relevant by Making Innovation Personal

Manufacturing Becomes Personal

“We are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet” – Author unknown

The game is really changing when it comes to innovation in manufacturing. Companies that want to stay on the forefront are not resting on old laurels, instead, they are asking better questions and driving down to the fundamental problem they are solving for their customers.

The old school ideas of making millions of the same trinket in hopes that the insatiable American consumer will, well…consume, is no longer in vogue. Consumer behavior which is mostly driven by millennials all about the person. No more do we want to the Model T Ford that only comes in black. Today, consumers want to express themselves through the products they purchase and use.

Inspired by human-centered design methodology, these pioneers are thinking about how to better address customer need and some of the results are incredible.

To reach these new heights there has been a major mind shift. Of course, not everyone has joined the bandwagon, but the ones that have will surely benefit. Here are some major themes that emerged from those on the forefront of innovation:

They Focus on Convenience

The American consumer has more information at their fingertips than what our grandparents had in their entire Encyclopedia Britannica collection. With that comes a heightened level of sophistication and requirements for the manufacturer.

To answer the call, some innovators are focusing on convenience. Now convenience isn’t something you can typically design into a P&ID diagram. Today’s consumer is focused on themselves and purchasing services that enhance their quality of life instead of goods that merely occupy space.

Automobile manufacturer Ford has decided to focus on transportation services instead of merely on production.  And they have the right idea. According to a quote from their CEO in the article, the transportation services sector generates more than double the $2.3 trillion that new-vehicle sales annually.

They Recognize that Personalization is Preferred over Mass Production

Personalized medicines have long been the darling concept of pharmaceutical giants. The idea that a person’s genetic makeup may be mapped for the exact biological responses they have a predisposition towards is fast becoming reality. We know that individualized care increases the odds of a positive outcome for patients and reduces unnecessary time and costs on treatments ill-suited to that person.

This same concept may not be too far away in other industries as well. The advent of the 3D printer and the ability to print on-demand to each specification really is personalized manufacturing brought to life.

Breathe New Life into Mature Markets

It happened to the taxi industry. It happened to the TV and video. Next is…the laundry room?

That’s right, even your knickers are not safe from the innovative mind of entrepreneurs. The FoldiMate is set to be the first in-home robot to take on our unfolded laundry. And I thought the Roomba was cool. This new gizmo is supposed to take your freshly washed laundry, steam the wrinkles out and fold. It even has the ability to add a tad of perfume should you choose. Set to launch in 2017, it’s only the latest in the trend to innovate the ordinary.

In my opinion, this is where the real engineering happens. When you have a problem that consumers have gone blind to, it can be hard to see the opportunity. You have blinders on.

Go to any startup weekend. People are thinking up all these new and cool ways to solve perceived problems. Folding my laundry? That’s change I can believe in. And put dollars behind.

There are Ample Opportunities to Innovate

Rest assured, while the rules for manufacturing is changing, many markets are still ripe with opportunity. If more businesses recognize the trends as they gain momentum they won’t be left in the aftermath. Even established companies like Saint-Gobain recognize the need to get hip and speak to today’s customer.

I’m not sure what cool innovations are going to come out next but it will surely be interesting to watch. For now, I’m hoping that someone will invent the automatic daily wardrobe selection machine!

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Richelle Thomas, PhD

Dr. Thomas is a science communicator at the intersection of materials science research, ideation and innovation. As a Fulbright scholar, she is constantly in search of ways to leverage scientific innovation for business and entrepreneurship applications. She has had roles in process development for building materials, corporate sustainability and government affairs.

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