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Diving into Innovation

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Attendees at the recent MFG Meeting in Orlando had an opportunity to immerse themselves in the most important aspects of innovation as force for revitalizing the manufacturing industry.

Here are a few of the insights offered by the speakers and panelists at this event.

George Blankenship, former executive of Tesla Motors, Apple Computers and Gap Inc., make the point that innovative products succeed only if potential buyers and customers are engaged in a way that connects their core interests and values with the core features and benefits that differentiate a new product.

Talking about the Internet of Things, Rob Gremley, executive VP, Internet of Things and Service Lifecycle Management at PTC, emphasized that connected devices (which interact with everyone and everything across a global network) impose new models for how manufacturers create, operate and service them. Service (how these products sustain and renew their value to users) will require the boldest new thinking, he says.

Innovation, the drive to invent the new (new products, new methods, new ideas, new customer experiences) can be a powerful force. It saved LEGO, the global company known for its interlocking toy "bricks"). However, as David Robertson, Wharton School of Business, demonstrated, this force must be pointed toward a clear goal and led by managers guided by a clear vision.

The icon for innovation in manufacturing these days is 3D printing. A panel of experts put this development into perspective. Its power to complement and enhance conventional machining methods represents its greatest impact on manufacturing, rather than the likelihood that it will displace subtractive machining on a wholesale basis. Everyone is still learning what additive can and cannot do.

At the event, Hybrid Technologies Ltd. received the inaugural International Additive Manufacturing Award. Dr. Jason Jones, co-founder and CEO of Hybrid Technologies, accepted the award on the company’s behalf. In his comments, he related his experiences in the years-long effort to develop a practical method to combine laser metal cladding with CNC machining on the same platform. He said that the success of his company rested on bold new thinking for sure, but that persistence, patience, good luck and the ability to turn adversity into opportunity were equally important. Creativity, not knowledge, will distinguish the true innovators in this era, he said.

John B. Rogers Jr., cofounder and CEO of Local Motors (the company's Strati is touted as the world's first 3D printed car) said that manufacturing will look more personal—customers will have direct input on the making of the products they intend to buy. The real drags on innovation are not technical challenges, he said, but rather entrenched bureaucracies, closed-minded regulators and old-guard manufacturers protecting what they consider their turf.

Finally, some attendees took the opportunity to be immersed in innovation quite literally. As a novel fundraiser, a number of members of the Precision Metalforming Association, jumped into the hotel’s pool in their formal wear following the gala dinner on the list night of the event. They, and their wet tuxedos, were raising funds for the association’s PAC efforts.

Hosted by AMT—The Association For Manufacturing Technology, National Tooling & Manufacturing Association and Precision Metalforming Association, The MFG Meeting brings together the complete chain of manufacturing to discuss the current and future state of the manufacturing industry.