Innovation and innovation management

by Claudio Giardini

 What do we mean when we speak of innovation? Moreover, what are the elements that characterize it and the elements into which it is declined? A complex concept, the innovation one, which a company can apply in different ways and with diametrically opposite results. We are analysing how, also specifying what are the innovation spaces in the mould and die maker world.

A OKThe process of translation of an idea or of an invention into a good or a service that creates value, or customers will pay for, is the definition of “innovation”.

An idea, to be actually considered “innovation”, must be repeatable at an interesting cost from the economic point of view and must satisfy a specific need, otherwise either it is too expensive or it does not meet any requirement and therefore no customers or possible users are interested in it.

Many, rightly, believe that innovation is the main key to build the competitiveness of an industrial enterprise in the global market.

Innovation, however, does not reside only in what we sell, both a physical product and a service.

We speak in fact of innovation also when we deliberately apply information, imagination and initiative in drawing more profits from the available resources, including the processes in which these resources are involved.

Innovating means, in other words, something new that did not exist before or that has never been used previously in a given ambit: something new to do something better. Innovation starts from an idea and becomes reality only thanks to the lavishing of resources by an enterprise.

Innovation is synonym of risk taking and the organizations that create revolutionary products and technologies take the greatest risk because they create new markets. Risk, however, not intended in our sense, that is symptomatic of danger, something that can go wrong, but meant in the most  general and Anglo-Saxon acceptation of “possibility”: if I try to shoot at goal several times, I risk of scoring a goal!

We should not confuse innovation with the simple change: changing might lead nowhere or be limited to a strategy of extension of a technology living a decline phase or the end of its lifecycle at a low sophistication level. In this case, the only target is to try to make an obsolete technology survive in a low value market, which is not precisely innovating.

If technologies have reached a maturity level of their lifecycle and the market still pays attention to the quality of what is supplied and not only to its cost, the strategy consists in not introducing innovations but on the contrary in maintaining a standard situation as much as possible.

Therefore, no innovation in both cases and none of these two situations represents a leader organization in its field.

It is only when we want to refer to a situation in which the dominant strategy is focused on the customer value that we enter the application ambit of the innovation concept, distinguishing two different situations: in the first one, technologies are at a high sophistication level or in the growth phase of their lifecycle and organizations suit technological innovations; in the second one, technologies are at their highest sophistication level or in the introduction phase of their lifecycles and organizations participate in the decision of developing or introducing new or emerging technologies to achieve a prestigious position in a market that is highly aware of value. In the first case, we speak of “Technology follower strategy”, in the second case of “Technology leader strategy”. The meaning and the difference between the two strategies is evident.

foto D Fotolia_72743686_XXL OKThe categories of innovation

Innovations can be subdivided into two big categories:

Evolutionary innovations provoked by several incremental progresses in the technology or in processes

Revolutionary innovations (also called discontinuous innovations) that are often disruptive and completely new.

Innovating does not necessarily result in technical aspects, in machines, in processes or in products. Organizational aspects are fundamentally involved, too: let us think of the introduction of more flexible working hours, or of interventions aimed at increasing buyers’ purchasing power or the opportunities offered by teleworking. Wherever these things are feasible, it is clear that their introduction is actually an innovation.

In the opinion of some authors, the technological innovation that promotes organizations’ participation in the globalization phenomenon is the addition of innovations at stake in four fields: transport technologies, communication technologies, transaction technologies and collaboration technologies.

Studies demonstrate that the globalization of markets and of trade enterprises has reached unprecedented levels thanks to the new resources provided by the big digitalization, boosting investments precisely in the four areas above described.

Moreover, the same studies indicate that in the global market the value of a product depends more on the technological ambit where it was implemented rather than on its physical composition.

Innovation, however, is not strategic for companies only. Actually, all developed Countries have their own enterprises or companies that operate on a world scale and are in the forefront of the technological innovation in related goods and services, relying on the right competitive edge. These enterprises have profit margins that can be very high, thus contributing in moving the trade balance of their States in the positive zone, with consequent advantage.

Precisely for this reason, States should share in leading their enterprises towards innovation with funding or promotion interventions, realizing a context where innovating is convenient for companies.

The elements for innovation

What are, anyway, the elements that must contribute to be able to obtain a real innovation? We can make a list of them, all equally important: vision, leadership, inspiration, motivation, teamwork. Only when you consider all these elements you can be successful indeed in developing an innovation. The innovation does not travel and does not develop alone. Without the right vision, the capability of working together, the capability of “dragging” the others and the right awareness of its importance, innovation remains a void word and doing innovation a chimera.

People are, as always, the key element: it is undoubtedly necessary to involve and to guide them but it is also necessary to choose the right persons, those who are not afraid of novelty or of undertaking new ways. We must be able to recognize talents and skills to convey them into the innovation plan.

Organization plays a fundamental role, too. We must think and plan innovation, verify and finally standardize it as new operating modality of an organization. We must see it as an opportunity and assess that this change is concretized in the wished ways, times and costs. Actually, we need a strategy based on strong technological and information supports, inside or outside the company, because when we introduce the innovation, we must rethink and adapt everything to the innovation itself.

Some examples? The fax machine: excellent innovation, nowadays almost completely outdated but that could work only when this instrument was sufficiently diffused. The email: the same thing. Smart phones, very useful appliances provided that they are supported by a whole series of applications to make them really smart: if simultaneously with the development of a smart phone we had not invested in the birth of applications or promoted it, the instrument in itself would have remained a phone with a slightly different shape. Credit cards, GPS navigators, social media, e-book readers and so on. Clearly, once more, innovation is not only hardware but it can be also “immaterial” or developed in services.

A quite obvious historical remark, even referring only to the few examples reported before, is that in the past the technological innovation was mainly interpreted as a response to some needs while today it has become the leader element in the economic growth.

foto C OKWhat are the innovation spaces in the mould and die maker world

Are there spaces for innovation in the world of mould and die makers? I would say so. Automation to improve the performances of the production system, trying to reduce costs and to improve quality while increasing the use of the already present resources. Introduction of new manufacturing technologies: micromachining, nanotechnologies, laser ablation. Introduction of new control systems of manufactured parts: vision systems, tomography of implemented products, contactless measuring. New markets to enter: mechatronics, biomedical, optical-digital systems. New business management modalities: managerial for the production planning, for the resource management, the productive process optimization, the resource exploitation and the maintenance management. New digital instruments, in addition to the usual CAD: new programmes able to optimize products, product and process simulation systems, systems of real CAE, cloud storage and cloud computing. Introduction and use of emerging technologies to be able to exploit them as support or alternative to standard ones: additive manufacturing systems, in case of small batches, consequent possibility of supplying not the mould but directly the product for small batches, possibility of implementing clamping systems and equipment, manufacturing of products with innovative materials both in the ambit of metals and of polymers. Consciousness of knowledge and concepts like the Life Cycle Assessment and the ecologic aspects of manufacturing and disposal. Use of more performing materials, with low environmental impact or biocompatible. Introduction of techniques for the development of new products and for the solution and anticipation of problems, or to describe problems and complex systems, for instance with visual maps or to make processes sounder, reducing the intrinsic variability and then improving the product quality. Enhancement of knowledge and of its sharing inside the company. They all are not simple challenges but absolutely worth facing if we really want to reach the success in enterprises’ performances in the global competitive market.

We said that innovation is not automatic, it does not spring and progress alone. We need various kinds of resources, ideas and people …. However, we have not mentioned one thing, yet: knowledge is necessary have innovation indeed, knowledge that we can acquire through sciences, through the research, the study and the training. If we want to shorten the times to achieve an innovation, the latter must be mandatorily based on sound and strong foundations, which can be implemented only thanks to what just said.

The scientific work, carried out in companies and research centres, produces new knowledge, provides basic theories and creates reality models to simulate it, understands what factors influence a certain process and studies its instruments for the optimization.

Foto B  OKEducation allows sharing the competences produced by the scientific work and studying how to apply them to generate innovation.

Innovation, unlike evolution, is not based on the system adaptation but on the intelligence application. In itself, it is not a process ruled by natural resources or phenomena but by the continuous growth of knowledge and by the intellectual ability of using this knowledge.

Without these requisites, innovation can become a gamble, as if we built a bridge by gradually extending a road that, once reached the edge of a precipice, can allow, with a jump forward, reaching a new unexplored land, with new opportunities; at the same time, however, owing to the lack of right support pillars, it runs the risk of collapsing, dispersing the resources spent and used without actually arriving anywhere.

Knowledge in itself is useless, too, if not exploited to progress with its use in innovation. Albert Einstein in fact states: “Imagination is more important than knowledge but knowledge makes imagination realistic”.

How can we blame him?

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