Innovation is the buzzword in manufacturing, but it is easier said than done. Even those who have embraced principles such as open innovation may be flabbier than fit.
One of the biggest culprits is technological change. Research and development, engineering, and other staff need refreshing—fast—on leading-edge technologies in order to innovate, and to evaluate potential partners.
They also need more education on how to develop a more innovative mindset. Rising stars in research and development nationwide may be working “incognito” at a particular company, ready to produce breakthroughs once their level of technical and innovation acumen has been raised.
Perhaps, above all else, they need a gentle push by Mehran Mehregany, Ph.D. and founder of NineSigma, which helped pioneer the whole concept of open innovation.
He is also the founder of QuantaEd™, which produces advanced online lessons in science, technology, and innovation for companies. These lessons – called QuantaLessons – are advanced online instructional videos designed for the audience to master a prescribed subject, product, or service.
The company also offers a product called InnovationGym, which integrates business, technical and innovation training. Modules include The Innovative Mind, which will cover pervasive technology, data and analytics, economics and finance, innovation and entrepreneurship, and more.
The goal of InnovationGym, Mehregany says, is to empower learners to think like innovators, and to develop groundbreaking products that are viable to manufacture and sell.
These lessons, he adds, help companies – large and small, public and private, global and local – contend with the new 21st century reality that the economy is putting a premium on innovation.
“My message is, essentially, a better, faster, cheaper learning experience by enabling the companies to develop their talent pool and advance every individual in their knowledge and their innovation skills,” Mehregany tells Leo Rommel of Industry Today. “We separate the wheat from the chaff and just deliver what they need to know.”
That is, he says, because it is no longer enough to rely solely on a select number of “superstars” in an organization to win the innovation war amongst competitors.
“Sustainable competitive advantage, in my opinion, depends on enhancing the total innovation capacity of an organization’s talent pool,” Mehregany explains. “That can only be done through advanced learning – which must be scalable and affordable to deploy so that anyone in an organization can benefit.”
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
QuantaLessons, in most cases, work something like this: After customers specify the subject matter, learning objectives and audience composition, QuantaEd responds with one or more recommended lessons – depending, of course, on the scope of the learning objectives.
“These lessons can be used two ways,” Mehregany says. “One is to enhance competitive positions by extending the knowledge and skills of the talent pool. The other is to reduce cost of sale by reducing labor intensive training.”
Each lesson also has a set of optional challenge questions to exercise grasp of the learning objectives.
“Lessons consist of, usually, a 30-minute video, 10 challenge questions, and a set of slides,” Mehregany adds. “This is pretty rigorous. The challenge questions require the learner to not only understand the lesson in the video, but also take a look at the references we provide in the video to complete the learning experience.”
In addition, while each lesson is engineered specifically for self-learning, its attached challenge questions encourage peer-to-peer interaction amongst coworkers, Mehregany says.
“The questions are tough,” he adds. “So, the person likely will have to interact with other colleagues to ask something like, Hi, I understand this question, but I do not seem to be getting it right. What do you think?”
QuantaLessons, which are substantially less expensive per person than alternative solutions, can also be accessed anytime, anywhere, on the organization’s website, via desktop or mobile.
“The student learns at his or her own pace,” Mehregany says. “They have the ability to rewind, stop, reflect, digest, and then read more.”
Mehregany says it is important that employees at all manufacturing firms continue to explore various avenues to continue their education – but that, too, is easier said than done.
“In many job environments, the ability to continue to learn is not that great because the companies cannot always afford to send employees to conferences, and they cannot afford to send them all for continuing education,” Mehregany says. “High-tech companies do a good job of making up for this by providing the necessary resources, but manufacturers are often in a much tougher situation.”
Still, if manufacturers say no, employees may develop something of a bottled-up yearning for wanting to learn more and possibly resentment against their employer for denying them that.
Such a denial, he adds, can have a long-lasting morale effect companywide.
“Employees, in their minds, feel like they are falling behind on the times, on the state of the art, and that affects productivity, innovation, and the bottom line.”
About Mehran Mehregany
Mehregany is an educator, researcher, innovator, and entrepreneur. He has founded, financed, and managed a number of technology start-ups since 1990,including NineSigma, while teaching at Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland, Ohio).
Mehregany received his M.S. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1986 and 1990, respectively. From 1986 to 1990, he was a consultant to the Robotic Systems Research Department at AT&T Bell Laboratories, where he was a key contributor to groundbreaking research in micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS).
He has been with Case Western Reserve University since 1990, and he holds the Goodrich Professor of Engineering Innovation Endowed Chair. He founded the Case School of Engineering San Diego Programs in July 2007 and is its Director, as well as founder and director of its Wireless Health Program since 2010.