The United States became the world’s biggest manufacturer in the late 1890s, taking the title from Britain. The U.S. retained that title for every year through 2010. In 2011, China took the lead, as a “changing of the guard” for the new millennium. China’s ascension reflects the strength of emerging economies that have growth by doubling total output (see stats here and here). Part of this growth can be attributed to emerging market manufacturers achieving success through government support and focus on advanced manufacturing. In June 2011, the United States President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) released their Report to the President on Ensuring American Leadership in Advanced Manufacturing, representing a new focus by the US to achieve government support. According to the report, “as U.S. leadership in manufacturing output declines, other nations are investing heavily in advancing their manufacturing leadership, innovation systems and R&D.” As hopes to increase jobs and support the advancement of a robust manufacturing continue, private companies are exploring how innovation can spur growth, cost-savings and efficiency through initiatives designed specifically to fuel innovation.
According to a 2011 Report the Economist Intelligence Unit, 90% of manufacturing executives view innovation as key to long-term prosperity. They also asked executives how manufacturers could increase innovation in their companies and 38% reported that “encouraging internal innovation competitions or an initiative” is the way to go. See Figure 1.
Government support may also prove to help to boost manufacturing as Len Sauers, Vice President of global sustainability at Procter & Gamble, believes, “government has a critical place at the table in helping to spawn manufacturing innovation,” such as being capable of providing tax incentives to corporations, as well as investing in math and science education. Nevertheless, the Economist Intelligence Unit indicates that, “manufacturers are not looking to government to solve all their problems: most point to business-led initiatives as being key.” Let’s take a look at a specific industry and a few private companies tackling the challenges of innovation in manufacturing with new approaches and fresh insights.
Since the highly publicized U.S. automotive industry crisis, U.S. automakers have been looking for innovative ways to make their cars more energy efficient and appealing to customers. The Ford Motor Company has been on the forefront of auto innovation since its inception in 1903 and the company continues to revolutionize auto innovation with a new virtual manufacturing toolset, a high-tech system that has allowed designers to locate and fix assembly problems years in advance and has even shaved off a year for new auto manufacturing from design to production.
Bosch’s power tool and accessory division, which was already a leader in manufacturing for its specific market, was looking to maximize growth by evolving their products, rather than depend on its staple line of tools. Bosch looked outside their company for ideas on how to make their products better. Using Brightidea software they launched a series of online communities where the public could submit valuable ideas on new accessories or changes to existing products, some of which have been implemented and are to be released soon.
The Embedded Computing & Power business unit at Emerson, a Fortune 500 global manufacturing and technology company, has established and employed a formalized innovation process by taking advantage of a resource comprised of knowledgeable employees through a Brightidea-powered innovation portal that has hosted numerous campaigns throughout different departments. Emerson’s innovation strategy has had great success, a strategy that continues to evolve through testing and development.
There is no doubt that as the global economy continues to recover, the age-old need to not only invent things but to also “make things” is an important component of long-term economic stability. By increasing exports and reviving manufacturing through both private efforts and government incentives, manufacturers can once again create jobs and sustain growth. It remains to be seen, but so far, the effects of an increasing number of manufacturers are using software packages and other technologies to improve their business performance, is certainly making an impact on the overall health of the manufacturing industry.