As design & innovation in additive manufacturing experts Jennifer Arroyo (nTopology), Leanne Gluck (Autodesk) and Katherine Tucker (WERK_Strategy) shared their expertise and insights on the topic during our latest Women in 3D Printing Virtual Panel, I want to convey here some of the important questions that were raised by moderator Kristin Mulherin (AM-Cubed) during this discussion.
What do we need to keep in mind when initiating innovation through design?
Whenever considering what tools to use to accelerate innovation through design, it’s critical to keep a human-centered approach, starting from the user needs and utilize technology and design as tools to achieve a user-related goal. Tied to this human-centered approach, our panelists recommend questioning the purpose of what you’re designing, as well as letting go of everything you already know about traditional design work and sets of rules.
I can’t help but remember Janne Kyttanen words in his latest article on Investing In The End-To-End Value That 3-D Printing Creates, Not In The Technology Itself: “Weight reduction and part consolidation may be the engineers’ holy grail, and the marketing department may be on board, but the finance department struggles to create scalable models to support the use of 3-D printing. Most companies simply aren’t structured to see benefits of the throughput of this technology for the company as a whole. This means that even if a consolidated and lighter, but more expensive part could benefit a company’s P&L as a whole by decreasing fuel costs, reducing inventory or improving quality control, it’s hard to get these innovations introduced. When the project is driven by the procurement department the part will land as a higher cost line item on their excel sheet and it won’t find adaptation.”
This is our experience exactly with Ivaldi Group, and the reason why we’ve introduced a free data analysis software solution, for these procurement departments who are looking into rough data rather than marketing output to make final decisions on parts sourcing. For real user-cases and additive manufacturing implementation, innovation has to come from a human-centered approach, combined with a reality-check process measured by costs and procurement data. Ivaldi Group is not the only additive manufacturing company in this market of course, and a few other companies are working on resolving similar problems.
Re-shifting the discussion on the role of the designer in the innovation process, the panelists highlighted the need for designers to unlearn what they know about design in order to absorb and unlock the full potential of new rules thanks to Design for Additive Manufacturing. Which leads to the following question:
How do we unlearn and reconstruct our knowledge in a collaborative way?
Encouraging experimentation is key. One of the actionable take-aways from the discussion is to put a diverse group of people together, not only engineers and designers but sales, marketing, HR, users, etc… and let those persons question everything and ask “why?” Before doing so, you’ll need to make sure to have designers and engineers who are welcoming the challenge though!
Driving innovation comes with its share of challenges and blockers. To overcome those blockers, relationship management is something that should not be overlooked. When people give resistance, they are actually providing information that something is wrong and needs to be revisited. From this feedback, it’s important to unpack and reiterate. An innovative way of handling this resistance is to give the inquisitive person a key role in the design process: have this person check on a regular basis the work of the design and engineering team.
Going a bit further here, I would like to stress the importance of diversity in the workforce. It has been demonstrated that diversity enables innovation and companies who have the most diverse teams usually succeed better. If you’re not familiar with it yet, I’d recommend going through the Harvard Business Review on how diversity drives innovation. It’s from 2103, but it is still accurate in my opinion. A most recent study, dated October 2019, by the Wall Street Journal came to the same conclusion that a diverse workforce only encourages more innovation, and thus, faster go-to-market and better profit margins. Forbes is providing a good analysis of this latest study: “EBIT margins for companies with diverse management teams were nearly 10% higher than for companies with below-average management diversity. Diverse teams are more capable of addressing market segments with demographics similar to some of the team members.”
Then, technology should also enable us to overcome these challenges, as it was pointed out during the panel. As an example, generative design, by enabling us to look at thousands of design options, should enable us to iterate and find the best combination possible for a said product in record time, allowing us to focus on setting the criteria: material, cost, faster turnaround time etc….
How can design encourage the transition to a circular manufacturing model?
Circular manufacturing models should be prioritized. We need to have a community-wide discussion on the topic and come with actionable ways to get to circular manufacturing models.
A suggestion that came out of the panel discussion is to combine additive manufacturing with other technologies on a local level and based on a specific situation. As an example:
Robot + additive manufacturing + construction + catastrophe = repurposing gravels for faster reconstruction?
Talking about a need for a community-wide discussion, the panel took an interesting turn, talking about what we can learn from COVID-19’s 3D printing responses, beyond the manufacturing of PPE and the healthcare industry: COVID-19 won’t be the last emergency we’re facing, and we need to redesign our capabilities and our supply chains. There is no doubt about that.
There is a need for more collaborative design and software platforms, especially as remote work will become the norm for some of us.
There is also a clear need for decentralization in manufacturing. A parallel can be done with what apparel and fashion industries are already dealing with for years: the ability to respond locally to local needs. Whether it is a shoe model that needs to be adapted for dedicated regions or an emergency- response spare part, analogies can be made from one industry to another who are working locally.
COVID-19 has brought out the best in people as the 3D Printing community has shown, with competitors working together towards a same goal and individual makers organizing themselves with local corporates. As we are slowly getting back to business as usual, interesting questions related to design and innovation are being raised: what products will be needed tomorrow in order to safely board an airplane, go back into our offices, enter a hospital, eating in a restaurant, etc.
Coming up shortly, the Jersey City Rapid Response Makers Group is actually putting together a hackathon, July 10–13, which aims at working on what’s next for 3D printed PPE, and on how to tackle manufacturing, sustainability, and supply chain challenges related to healthcare.
Who is responsible for driving innovation in an organization?
Our panelists are unanimous: Innovation is usually driven by individuals and not by a group. You need to identify the internal champion. This is someone who is obsessed with driving change and innovation within their organization. This person needs to have a decision-maker backing them up, though.
This is also something I’ve experienced with my sales & business development hat on. Internal champions are the key to driving innovation within an organization, no matter what size the organization is. However, it is up to us, additive manufacturing professionals, to provide enough information and data to back the innovation we are trying to implement into our customers’ organizations. As much as the internal champion will push for innovation internally, he/she needs enough information to build a business case.
Some of the other topics we touched on during the panel include simulation, how can quality control keep up with today’s speed of innovation within additive manufacturing, and some insights about what the industry should look like 5 years from now.
I invite you to watch the full panel here for more on these additional topics.
A huge thank you to our panelists, Jennifer Arroyo, Leanne Gluck, and Katherine Tucker, for making this discussion so interesting. And of course, to our moderator, Kristin Mulherin, who is putting together phenomenal panels and great questions. I also loved that our audience kept the discussion level pretty high by asking challenging questions all along.