Innovation is not available to the small producer | So Good News
In an increasingly fast-paced world, staying on the cutting edge of technology is the only way businesses can survive. The pandemic has done little to slow innovation. according to the report Global Innovation IndexIn 2020, international patent applications reached an all-time high and venture capital deals grew by 5.8%.
Innovation is as important in the world of manufacturing as it is in any other field, perhaps more so. The pandemic has highlighted the need for disruption and new ways of thinking about supply chains and the production of goods. Without innovative practices, the old guard of manufacturers will be left behind by those who find flexible solutions to the unexpected problems that inevitably arise.
For small businesses, innovation can sometimes feel like a big dollar sign that threatens to eat into already tight profit margins. However, SMEs typically rely on innovation to sustain growth against larger, more established competitors. Fortunately, small manufacturing plants can combine the need to use best practices and a modest budget with – well – innovative strategies.
Here are three ways manufacturers can leverage innovation without an R&D department:
Developed in the 1980s, 3D printing gained traction in the late 2000s because the technology was easy to use and inexpensive. Today, any organization can purchase a commercial printer for under $1,000.
While 3D printing may be dismissed as gimmicky or just for hobbyists to create models or unique art, 3D printing is a powerful tool for makers looking to innovate. Perhaps the most obvious advantage is the ability to quickly replace parts online. Using the proper fibers, a broken seal can be repaired in hours instead of weeks, saving thousands of dollars in lost production time.
Creating new parts isn’t the only benefit of 3D printing. By leveraging this technology, savvy manufacturers can create added value for their customers. Things like realistic packaging mockups, customizable parts, and rapid prototypes all appeal to customers of all sizes.
Speaking of prototypes, 3D printers can be used by engineers to test ideas and improve processes overnight. Such innovations reduce costs, speed up production times, and can be a big differentiator for smaller operations.
Often associated with science fiction films or futuristic cartoons, robots have been an integral part of the manufacturing process for nearly 50 years. Using robots can help speed up processes and improve quality control, but a custom system can cost upwards of $150,000. This is a large upfront investment for some organizations.
The good news is that robotics companies are innovating like no other industry, and robotics technology is available without the $100k plus price tag through rental or leasing programs.
Rental of robotics allows companies to produce more than usual and helped fill temporary labor shortages last year. Adopting a robot temporarily allows companies to try out innovative strategies without taking huge financial risks.
Operations Excellence software
As Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock famously said, “It is a great mistake to theorize before you have the facts.” Effective innovation is based on good data and good analysis of this information.
We live in the information age and access to the numbers is available to any manufacturing company that wants it. Operations Excellence (OE) software can be easily implemented to provide key insights into the inner workings of a production line. An effective software solution reports output and efficiency updates, finds capacity gaps, identifies maintenance issues, and identifies network outages due to poor practices.
More data allows organizations to make informed decisions about which innovations are profitable and which don’t require the time required to research and implement them.
The great thing about innovation is that it builds on itself. Implementing one or more of these simple strategies can help small and medium-sized manufacturers identify solutions to problems they may not have realized existed. While simultaneously addressing inefficiencies through smart innovation, agile enterprises can carve out their disruptive niche.