VP of manufacturing, technology and Innovation at Jabil. Over 20 years of experience helping global teams create cutting-edge manufacturing.
A double dose of disciplined innovation will go a long way in helping the world right now. Think about all the benefits that could come from innovations such as wearable patches embedded with biosensor technology to monitor a patient’s vital signs remotely, along with patches equipped with acoustic and audio sensors to interpret cough patterns and respiratory rates, as well as heart and lung sounds.
Expect to see an influx of sensor-based wearable devices, which will give overworked health care workers a much-needed break by enabling remote and low- or no-touch patient monitoring. Emerging advances in electrochemical biosensors for pathogen detection also promise big benefits in more rapidly detecting and combatting viral and bacterial pathogens.
Innovations are popping up everywhere, many leveraging advances in flexible hybrid electronics (FHE). For instance, integrating capacitive touch capabilities with FHE enables functionality to be embedded directly onto plastic or glass surfaces without the need for knobs, buttons or crevices. For hospitals, the opportunity to have device and appliance surfaces that are easy to clean and disinfect is hugely helpful.
In my last column, I explained how innovation goes into overdrive in times of crisis as a shared sense of urgency and purpose propel projects forward. Equally important is infusing each new product with proven principles and processes to maximize results.
A New Take On Innovative Thinking
I have long been a Clayton Christensen fan, ever since he coined the term “disruptive innovation” to describe how a product or service can take root in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then move upmarket to displace established competitors. I’ve also followed Professor Christensen’s fellow Harvard professor and strategy guru Michael Porter.
For many, being a disruptor means thinking “outside the box” to challenge conventional wisdom. As an engineer, I favor applying discipline and rigor to build a better box. It is a more practical spin on the theories espoused by the aforementioned professors because discipline helps you adapt more readily to new situations and constraints.
You may be faced with limited time, lack of materials, financial restrictions or constrained people resources. There is always something that necessitates a modification to the initial plan. The recent health crisis underscores this point, especially when you realize what innovators have managed to accomplish despite facing every limitation on the list.
In The Innovator’s Solution, Professor Christensen describes how disruptive innovators rely on discovery-driven planning to make decisions based on pattern recognition. Conversely, organizations seeking to sustain innovation plan deliberately and make project decisions based on numbers and rules. In the world of manufacturing, we have to balance both sides of the innovation equation, despite the obvious conflicts between them.
Unlimited Is Not In My Lexicon
In supporting any new product development, I look closely at the constraints, as the word “unlimited” is not in my lexicon. Industrialization dictates that we constantly review and leverage the best processes, technologies and people. We continually monitor outcomes to yield the best results at the “lowest landed cost,” which is the total price of a product once it has reached the buyer’s doorstep.
Each product brainstorm is framed by the core fundamentals of advanced manufacturing: design, materials, process, quality and test. We adhere to these tenets without exception and innovate within these foundational pillars.
This approach ensures the right investments are made at the right time without stifling innovation. Early entrants tend to address an urgent need, such as the emergence of infrared sensors in retail, which take shoppers’ temperatures as they enter the store. Interest in developing devices activated by voice control and gesture recognition also are on the rise, along with sanitizing and disinfecting robots and accelerated research and development for autonomous system innovations.
Through structured manufacturing and industrialization initiatives, companies can apply disciplined innovation to build upon these early product advancements, reallocate their own product development investments or become hyperfocused on solutions to help society.
Robust, Repeatable Rigor
Each new product comes with its own set of constraints. Clearly, autonomous systems for situation awareness applications carry significant operational risk, but they will get smarter and safer, thanks to additional sensors and actuators as well as cross-discipline expertise and arduous testing.
Today, an overriding sense of urgency is condensing industrialization phases without compromising the robust, repeatable processes and manufacturing rigor required to ensure the highest levels of quality possible. Disciplined innovation matters most when time is of the essence. That is why, right now, it is going to catalyze unbelievable product breakthroughs that will make us stronger, safer and better prepared for whatever the future holds.