That illusive innovation

Innovation is one of the key criteria for judging the products that are selected as our 150 Product of the Year Finalists. Each year, our screening judges are asked to evaluate the products submitted primarily on the basis of usefulness in plant engineering work and innovation. The dictionary defines innovation simply as "1.


Innovation is one of the key criteria for judging the products that are selected as our 150 Product of the Year Finalists. Each year, our screening judges are asked to evaluate the products submitted primarily on the basis of usefulness in plant engineering work and innovation.

The dictionary defines innovation simply as "1. The act of introducing something new. 2. Something newly introduced." A study by Cheskin and Fitch: Worldwide says that most executives describe innovation as a "solution" that addresses the unmet needs of customers or as "progress" that offers an improvement. I personally like the definition offered by InnovationNetwork: "people creating value by implementing new ideas."

Another recent study on innovation by consulting giant A.T. Kearney emphasizes a number of contradictions when it comes to how companies view their levels of innovation. Kearney points out, for example, that most companies say they're above average in innovation. The study goes on to report that nearly 70% of executives claim their companies are more innovative than the competition and that fewer than 10% admit to being less innovative. Obviously, many companies are not realistically assessing their positions regarding innovation.

The study also reports that "More than two-thirds of survey respondents cite the development of breakthrough products and services as a high priority. Yet fewer than 25% of their innovation projects are focused on 'new to the market' efforts. Instead, the vast majority of the major innovation projects the typical company undertakes annually… can be grouped into three less-than-innovative categories: derivative or minor extensions of the current product line; cost-saving innovations on current projects; and new to the company, but not new to the market."

The Kearney and the Cheskin and Fitch studies agree that much of today's innovation is reactive, driven by customer needs or competition. "Whether the innovation is iteration or a breakthrough," Cheskin and Fitch reports, "what matters is how responsive [companies] are, how focused they are on what matters to their market, and how well they're able to infuse the spark of creativity into everything they produce."

In any case, the market is the most important driver of innovation. Cheskin and Fitch goes so far as to say that "an innovation's success is judged primarily by the sales and revenue it generates and the customer feedback on it."

So we commend to you this year's 150 finalists in our Product of the Year Awards and ask that you provide your feedback by voting for the most useful and innovative. By so doing, you'll not only recognize the innovation in these new products, you'll also encourage more innovation for next year's awards.

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

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