Embrace innovation to succeed in manufacturing

November 22, 2011

The challenges that the economy presents to production facility heads are so severe that many are trying a number of varied approaches. Some embrace cost-cutting and lean business models while others find themselves attempting to diversify their companies and move into new industries. The secret, it turns out, might simply be that American manufacturers need to innovate more.

An article in the Atlantic sheds some light on this situation. According to a study by the Information and Technology Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the United States lags behind nearly every other industrialized country in terms of innovation. In fact, it was 43rd in their ranking of 44 nations on various rates of progress. These metrics include corporate and government research and development, venture capital totals, new business opportunities and overall productivity.

There are many ways to stimulate innovation, but many of them must be performed as an entire country on the national level. Companies themselves cannot increase the number of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) workers across the nation by themselves, which is a key recommendation of the ITIF report. Instead, they often have to adapt their business models to embrace innovation.

For example, the U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) held a meeting in Chantilly, Virginia, last month on this topic. At the Innovation Engineering Leadership Institute, participating MEP members were treated to reports and studies that shared the value of becoming innovative rather than attempting other cost-cutting measures.

For example, a presentation that included data from a Georgia Tech survey indicates that innovation is over twice as valuable as measures such as offering products at lower prices. In fact, innovating yields higher results than implementing better delivery systems or offering greater levels of customer service. By investing in new technology and modernizing facilities, companies can weather the recession and actually succeed in spite of it.

The next MEP meeting, which is held biannually, is scheduled for January 24 and 25 in San Diego. In addition to production methods, the MEP Update is expected to shed light on innovation in the realm of sales. Making smarter and more technologically based efforts for finding clients and drafting contracts is certainly a good way to take the message of innovation to heart and help manufacturers achieve the growth that they desire.