Celebrate the enthusiasm of innovation

For me, there are many exciting things about the annual Product of the Year issue. For one thing, it begins the process toward getting to hand out a lot of trophies at the 2010 Manufacturing/Automation Summit in Chicago on March 28. Handing out trophies is exciting. It also begins a six-month process where we look at all the crucial elements that make manufacturing work.


For me, there are many exciting things about the annual Product of the Year issue. For one thing, it begins the process toward getting to hand out a lot of trophies at the 2010 Manufacturing/Automation Summit in Chicago on March 28. Handing out trophies is exciting.

It also begins a six-month process where we look at all the crucial elements that make manufacturing work. We'll look at products this month, the 2009 Top Plant winner in December and publish our 2009 Salary Survey in the January 2010 issue. (I've seen the data, and it's not all bad news.) Then we build toward the Summit, where we'll look at crucial domestic and international manufacturing issues leading up to two days of great knowledge, live plant tours and insight from some of manufacturing's top leaders. You can't help but get excited about that.

But what I especially like about Product of the Year each November is the unbridled enthusiasm of product managers about their entries. Those selected as finalists for this year's awards are genuinely excited about the recognition. I suspect they like the idea of getting trophies even more than we like giving them out, but the recognition is also validation for all the hard work bringing these products from concept to completion.

Innovation isn't easy. It takes brain power, sure, but it also takes a keen eye and ear to unearth the problems facing your customers. It's about fashioning a solution for your customers that makes sense and makes money. It's about taking what had worked in the past and making it better for the future.

I have begun looking more closely at the engineering around me each day, trying to wrap my head around the design and functionality of the products I interact with each day. Why are some automobile dashboards sleek and inviting while others are just a bunch of numbers with needles? How (I'll leave the question of why for later) do you build a 20-story tall ocean liner, put the thing in the water and expect it to float, let alone go anywhere?

When you look at the detail that does into a hotel, can you conceive that everything from the faucets in the sink to the wiring in the walls to the vase that holds the fake flowers in the vestibule of the lobby outside of the elevator bay are all the result of someone saying, “This is the way this product must be designed!”

We look at the whole most of the time. We see the car and the ocean liner and the hotel as the sum of its parts. What Plant Engineering's Product of the Year contest does each year is look more closely at the parts. Those components (and the components that go into making them) are innovations that took time and sweat and failure and success before they got to the manufacturing stage. And in that process, the sole goal was to make someone else's manufacturing operation just a little bit better.

It's a more noble process than perhaps we understand. We tend to view these product launches with an eye forward toward how much money a given company can make with that innovation. That's valid, but it also misses the point. What's truly remarkable is that the product development and marketing and manufacturing teams that bring these ideas to life %%MDASSML%% to a functional, productive life %%MDASSML%% always teeter just on the edge of failure. To succeed and get a product on the street and on the shelf and finally into someone's plant is an event worth celebrating.

Who benefits from that success? The readers of Plant Engineering , to start. This issue is a one-stop shopping experience that will make your plant run better, smarter, faster and safer.

I ask you to take the time and vote for this year's best innovations when the 2009 Product of the Year ballot comes your way in the next week. Those votes provide further validation for the efforts of these product development teams.

I hope you can join us in Chicago for this year's Summit. You'll hear a lot about how innovation drives success on plant floors around the world.

Most of all, I hope you find the solution you are looking for in this issue to achieve your goals of productivity and safety. In doing that, you'll take one more step in helping your customers achieve their goals.

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After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.

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Read more: 2014 Salary Survey: Confidence rises amid the challenges

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