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Manufacturing – Creating Opportunity through Innovation

äpərˈt(y)o͞onədē, noun,
a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something.

When we think of champions of manufacturing today we tend to think of some of the big companies such as IBM, 3M, Johnson & Johnson, P&G and Dow Chemical. But companies don’t form themselves, and patents don’t automatically mean innovation – people do.

Not all companies have inventors. However, all companies can, and probably do, have innovators.

An invention is a product or process that has been created and then documented legally. There are many patents granted and then nothing is done with them. But innovation is how a patent or idea is put to use.  And connecting people with the opportunity to innovate is key.

A CNC machinist at a small shop in any part of the U.S. didn’t invent the CNC machine, but what that talented machinist can DO with that piece of invention can be innovative – if given the opportunity.

When companies were vertically integrated, from raw material to product sales, opportunity existed throughout the manufacturing process to make adjustments, tweak processes, test new raw materials, and try new things – on the spot, in the moment. With outsourcing, some of those dynamic relationships between all phases of the manufacturing process were lost.

Today, large manufacturers can have thousands of suppliers. While most companies have preferred supplier programs, those relationships for innovation or value co-creation exist, in large part, due to a small number of visionary champions. Most sourcing professionals within large manufacturing corporations simply don’t have time to sift through all the suppliers available to find those who may be able to contribute to growth through innovation. The opportunity for innovation is even harder to find. If necessity is the mother of invention, is it fair to say, opportunity is the catalyst to innovation?

If we identify the champions within manufacturing companies and provide the opportunity to build relationships that mimic those from the vertical integration era, will we have the right ecosystem for innovation? Can virtual integration provide the opportunity for innovation?

Every manufacturer has that machine shop or supplier they go to when they want to try something different. The problem is that these incidents have now become few and far between, relying on individuals that have built relationships over time: the proverbial “I know a guy…”. What if a program could reinvent “I know a guy…” thinking and actually create opportunity to build new virtual integration partnerships?

The MEP Centers in NY, RI, VT, NH, CT, NJ, ME, and MA are taking on this challenge.  The region is bringing together a few large manufacturers’ key sourcing champions and figuring out if they can help build virtual integration partnerships with existing suppliers or with more suppliers to create the opportunity for innovation.  Through a program called the Northeast Supply Chain Initiative, these MEP Centers are helping suppliers meet and exceed manufacturers’ minimum buying requirements allowing for the exploration and matching of innovative capabilities. Champions from large manufacturers can meet potential virtual integration partners. The MEP Centers are the key to delivering the enhanced “I know a guy” intelligence, essential to innovative breakthroughs.

With this program, the formula for success is creating opportunity:

Manufacturers’ Champions + Vetted Supplier Matches = Opportunity.

And Opportunity is the Catalyst for Innovation.

To learn more about the Northeast Supply Chain Initiative, please contact one of the participating MEP Centers listed in the states above.

About the author

Beth Colbert

Beth Colbert is the primary contact for assistance, resources, and sharing for the NIST MEP program partners in 8 states: New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine. Prior to joining the National Program, Beth served as the Center Director for the program in Ohio as part of the Ohio Department of Development for 6 years. Most of her career was spent working as a research and development engineer in manufacturing for Dow Chemical, Owens Corning, and Lafarge North America. In her career, she developed products and processes for manufacturing in the construction materials industry and received several patents.

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You have nailed it in the head when you said that with this program, the formula for success is creating opportunity. and opportunity is the catalyst for Innovation. Thank you for the invigorating information.

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