Monday, October 5, 2015

Innovation Across Industries

Innovation occurring in one industry can migrate across industries.  In fact an innovation in one industry that is considered an incremental change can be disruptive when it migrates.

This month is National Pizza Month in North America.  In honor of that, let’s examine innovation across industries by considering the case of the pizza printer. 

3-D Printing

The concept of 3-dimensional printing has been around for years.  I first worked with a stereolithography (SLA) printer in the mid 1990s.  This equipment would “print” a 3-dimensional object out of plastic resin.  This was done by creating literally thousands of “slices” of the object that were so thin that they were essentially a 2-dimensional slice through the product.  The SLA equipment then “printed” each slice, stacked them on top of each other and bonded them together. The result was the 3-dimensional object.  

To do this the SLA printer would analyse a 3-D CAD model of an object and create “slices” of the object.  Most SLA equipment then used a photo-sensitive resin and a UV laser to “print” each slice.  The resin would be in a big bath and the laser would print or sketch the pattern for that slice of the product.  The resin would react to the laser by solidifying in the shape that was sketched by the laser.  Once that layer cured, the object was lowered in the bath by a few millimeters and the next layer was printed on top of the first.  The object essentially grew downward into the resin bath.

Over the years other approaches to 3-D printing were developed.  Innovation led to new materials being used that had different material properties of strength, flexibility, and appearance.  New processes were developed that would work with even more materials than just photo-sensitive resins.  The size of the equipment changed allowing bigger objects or very tiny objects with tight tolerances.  Also, the price of the equipment came down as technical efficiencies and user/operator interfaces were improved. 

Today, almost all R&D centers have 3-D printing capability and some manufacturing operations are using these in their standard processes.  Changes and improvement in the technology and equipment are seen as incremental innovation, not breakthrough or disruptive innovation. 

3-D Food Printing

So now let’s migrate the technology to another industry – that of food preparation.  In the R&D and manufacturing worlds, there are 3-D printers using all kinds of material.  What if those materials were pizza dough, pizza sauce and cheese?  You would have a 3-D printer that could print a pizza ready to put into the oven. 

And the added capability of the printer technology is that you could print the pizza in whatever shape you want.  So you could print pizza that were the shape of your team’s logo for a Saturday afternoon party with friends to watch the big game.  Or you could print a pizza that looked like your kid’s favorite TV or movie character for their birthday party.  The options are literally endless.

You might think I am talking science fiction but the technology is here today.  NASA has sponsored 3-D food printing development for astronauts.

In fact, we don’t have to stop at pizza.  There are many other foods that could be printed.  The food printer demonstrated at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2015 and shown in this video could also make cookies and candies.  Why not one to make pasta, pastries, breakfast cereals, chips and crackers?  

If it is processed food, a 3-D food printer can be created to process it into fantastic shapes.  The other benefit of the 3-D food printer is that it can print-on-demand.  Whenever you want it, just give it the design and in a few minutes you have a pizza ready for the oven.  In fact, a logical innovation extension will be for an oven attachment so that the pizza is printed and baked by the same machine.

Innovation Migration

So how do we look for other opportunities for innovation migration?  A key technique is to rephrase what you are trying to do into very generic terms and then investigate how that type of activity is done in other industries. Let’s look at the food printer as an example.

When making a pizza you start with the pizza dough, add sauce, add cheese, add toppings and that bake it in a pizza oven.  A more generic way of saying that is that a pizza is several different materials that are layered on top of each other and then processed.

The second key is to be scanning and reviewing the products, processes, and materials in other industries to find similarities.  You want to intentionally place yourself “outside the box” of your industry to find the similarities and assess whether they can be adapted to your industry and business context.

So in our pizza example, when you look across industries, you quickly find that the 3-D printers today will often have several different materials that are applied in layers to create a basic object and that object is then further processed in order to make it stable and fit for use.  The similarities in function are obvious; it is just changing the materials and the nature of the processing. 

When the product or process migrates from one industry to another, it will often bring new advantages and capabilities with it.  In the case of pizza printing these are ability to print-on-demand and printing different shapes.

Try this exercise in your industry – describe what you do as generically as possible and then look in companion industries for products and processes that do that same generic function.  You may have a disruptive innovation on your hands in no time at all.

1 comment:

  1. I read lot of articles and really like this article. This information is definitely useful for everyone in daily life. Fantastic job.

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