The New Innovation Centers in Manufacturing

By Andrew Crowley

Whenever I hear the term “innovation center,” I think of a physical location where organizations are using technology to create competitive advantages over others in their spacealmost like a think tank, but with the technology doing most of the thinking. In manufacturing specifically, the inherent disadvantages in using old technologies to collaborate between the various departments and stakeholders. During product development and throughout the product’s lifecycle, this lack of innovation can create a backlog of emails with attachments and a process that is low on efficiency and high on frustration. Leading some to view the shop room floor as more of a cost center and less of an innovation center.

Manufacturers don’t often have the time, energy, or resources to create a physical innovation center, nor is it a realistic option within the industry - and yet this term persists. Instead, manufacturers should consider turning suppliers and internal manufacturing teams into digital innovation centers. Who stands to gain the most from digital innovation centers? And how then can a manufacturer close this gap to become more modern in how it approaches the technical product lifecycle?

Who Gains the Most From Digital Innovation Centers?

In short, engineering, procurement, sourcing, manufacturing, contract manufacturers and other component suppliers all become more productive when manufacturers take a digital innovation center approach to how they run their operations. Lower scrap and rework rates can be expected. Less errors escape the desk of design engineers into production. Manufacturing engineers deliver better production plans. Supplier performance goes way up because they are now operating as an extension of your internal teams rather than a “throw it over the wall” after thought. And everyone collaborates in the context of a common goal, a great product for their customers. Just like the good old days in physical innovation centers. 

What is Required for a Digital Innovation Center? 

Frictionless Technology

Closing the gap between using old methods and the ideal state of having a digital innovation center begins with frictionless technology.

In many manufacturing organizations, there is currently a gap between the people and systems managing technical data and the disconnected tools people in the trenches are using daily. This friction has caused manufacturers to make unnecessary tradeoffs between technical product lifecycle management applications and traditional content collaboration platforms, slowing the pace of the product development to a crawl. 

But people aren’t likely to give up their convenient collaboration apps without a fight: “We all live in email, chat tools and other real-time collaboration apps. A supplier collaboration portal needs to embrace this natural daily routine. A mobile-first experience that adapts the experience based on the device being used is critical. A social style feed of conversations, content, feedback, and markups simplify the many applications typically required get work done.”

Frictionless. Technology!

Rinse and Repeat Data Sharing

Recent research on the state of technical content collaboration revealed that an average 50% of engineering time is spent finding, packaging, sharing, and explaining technical product data. This includes searching systems for the right version of data to be shared, creating technical data packages (TDP) in a way that others can receive it, sharing data via existing systems, file shares, screenshots and email, and then answering questions about the data often repackaging and sharing missing information.

Manufacturers can’t afford to waste that kind of time-sharing data. (Especially if they want to be called innovative). They need a “rinse and repeat” way of sharing data that allows them to do it efficiently, while maintaining both security standards and version integrity. A digital innovation center for manufacturers cannot exist without this level of technology.

Building the Right Connections

The goal of a digital thread is to easily connect key stakeholders in manufacturing, engineering, the supply chain, and the business office to the full array of technical product data that is traditionally difficult to share or access. When done well, these “right connections” transform operations from engineering to manufacturing, across the supply chain, and out through service and sustainment. The absence of such connections makes it difficult for any manufacturing organization to be truly connected and innovative. 

The Answer is Clear

Though the term innovation center often describes a physical location for a singular purpose, it doesn’t have to be. Using the right tools and technology can easily transform suppliers and internal manufacturing teams into digital innovation centers. All it requires is frictionless technology, rinse and repeat data sharing, and building the right connections. These elements can all be found in Anark Collaborate, a modern publishing and collaboration platform for manufacturers and their suppliers.

By bringing all the crucial elements of publishing and technical content collaboration into one place, Anark’s product suite helps you reduce time wasted collaborating across email, screenshots, and ad-hoc file-sharing tools; ensures versioning integrity so everyone’s working off the right information; prevents errors from leaking out into production; and everything else required to turn your internal manufacturing teams and suppliers into digital innovation centers. 

Now that you understand how to transform your internal manufacturing teams and suppliers into innovation centers, request a demo of Anark solutions to get started.  

About the Author

Andrew Crowley