Manufacturing Innovation

James A. Robbins is North American Industry Lead for Accenture, a consulting firm in New York City. Automation World Editor in Chief Gary Mintchell recently talked with Robbins about innovation in manufacturing.

James A Robbins, North American Industry Lead for Accenture
James A Robbins, North American Industry Lead for Accenture
Automation World: I understand that Accenture has initiated a couple of studies on innovation in manufacturing.
James Robbins: Yes, we initiated a survey and then, as part of our relationship with the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the Manufacturing Institute, we had a roundtable discussion within NAM membership. We compiled the results of the studies and boiled down to a few takeaways. The survey included 600 executives in manufacturing and other industries and was commissioned in late 2007, conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit. NAM also conducted interviews with participants in the roundtable.

AW: Why did you do this study?
Robbins: We hoped the report, “Manufacturing Institute-Accenture Innovation Roundtable Report,” would help companies create more innovative products to support growth in the nation’s troubled economy.

AW: What were your findings?
Robbins: The key takeaways really boiled down to four points. We found that innovation is more about structure than serendipity. The really innovative companies innovate on multiple dimensions. They don’t look only at products or supply chain, but combine these with brands, marketing, customer experience and more. These companies are out talking to customers. For example, Honda Manufacturing of Indiana has a process of talking to customers and feeding the information back into other departments.

Another part of the innovation process is disciplined management. People may think that innovation is a six- to 10-year process, but the best companies take a portfolio approach. The portfolio includes short-term, midrange and long-term projects. Projects must have hurdles to pass through the system.

Then, good companies cultivate innovation in people. For example, the Manitowoc Co. does a good job of setting annual goals that involve innovation as part of it. Being an innovative company is a good way to drive recruiting and retention of employees. It’s important on winning the war for talent.

The next frontier for corporate growth is the development of consistent innovation, which is becoming the lifeblood of high performance. Companies that accomplish it will undoubtedly succeed.
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