Innovation as a formal management process

Want light bulbs to go off? Create a way to encourage, act on new ideas.


Show floor at the 2014 Association for Manufacturing Excellence conference in Jacksonville, Fla. Courtesy: Bob Vavra, Plant EngineeringInnovation in a manufacturing environment isn’t just a question of a light bulb going off. For some organizations, innovation means providing all employees with their own light bulb, and a way to share that light in a formal process within the organization.

That’s been the game plan at Zodiac Arresting Systems, which provides emergency stopping mechanisms for airplanes of all sizes in military and commercial applications. Rich Orner of Zodiac discussed the company’s formal strategy to collect and act on innovative ideas throughout the company at the 2014 Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Conference in Jacksonville, Fla.

If you’re not familiar with Zodiac, it might be because their product line is so singular in the aerospace industry. Perhaps its best-known product is the mechanism to stop military jets when they land on aircraft carriers. That kind of market leadership wasn’t always a good thing. "Seven years ago, senior management determined our commercial and military arresting systems were dominant positions in the market, and as such, we had become complacent in our workplace," Orner said.

To address this issue, senior management created an innovation process. The Innovation Charter at Zodiac states the goal to: "Establish a sustainable innovation process that drives and rewards innovation throughout the company that includes a documented procedure for the capture, evaluation and storage of new ideas."

The company doesn’t restrict ideas, but it does require those ideas to have a definable benefit. Each idea is evaluated for its potential, and 6% of the ideas are acted on immediately. Another 7% go through a full six-month evaluation process before implementation. About 42% of the ideas require further information.

But it’s the process of making innovation more of a democratic process that is the big change at Zodiac. "It’s not about telling people how to innovate," Orner said. "Our employees have the expertise, but we have to encourage their creative thinking skills and we need to provide them motivation. You need to have everyone engaged. You can’t just count on engineers."

That’s an interesting thought from Orner, an engineer himself. "People tend to think innovation is just for engineers. Wrong. Anybody can innovate," said Orner, who said about 60% of ideas at Zodiac come from outside the shop floor. "We need to change how we think. Line workers should be innovators, because they face problems every day."

Besides formal training on how to submit innovative ideas, Zodiac also includes time for workers to develop their innovations. Orner said there were several keys to that process:

  • Providing workers with Internet access
  • Giving them a budget
  • Facilitate outside support ("Not all the answers are in our organization," Orner noted.)
  • Let them get away from the work cell to develop ideas
  • Keep things within the company (which protects intellectual property rights)
  • Track innovation time so that work for innovation is managed and is productive.

That last round of innovation at Zodiac produces about 250 ideas through the system. From that process, Zodiac has one new project and 10 potential projects moving forward, two new proposals for business models, and two patent applications.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me