InnoVision Forum: Promoting Innovation in SC Manufacturing

Innovation and  flexibility are helping South Carolina manufacturers respond to customer demands and needs on a timely basis, while maintaining cost effectiveness.

Gary Tompkins, President and CEO of The Kidder Group, moderated the Forum and introduced the panel of esteemed guests.

Will Franks, President of ICON Business Associates, is seeing innovations in lean manufacturing and he shared a few of the trends he has observed. Currently, lean manufacturers are shifting from having an internal focus to having a customerdriven focus (external).  Franks noted that there is a change in philosophy relative to off-shoring jobs, and mentioned two regional firms relocating facilities to the States;  GE is creating 400 new jobs by moving their water heater manufacturing from China, and NCR is moving 260 jobs (from China) to Georgia.  The third trend Franks has noticed is the “demand driven approach” to business.  Rather than pushing product, pull product.  The “pull” process will drive operational nightmares to the surface rather quickly, forcing manufacturers to analyze and make the necessary corrections.  Finally, Franks mentioned that savvy manufacturers are expanding the lean manufacturing practices to other areas within the company, including accounting, finance, marketing, sales, HR, etc.

Ryan Harrison with TTI presents at InnoVision Forum

Ryan Harrison is an Advanced Concept Engineer with TTI, North America.   Ryan has a unique background, possessing both a BFA, Drawing/Ceramics (UNC/Greensboro) and a Masters in Industrial Design (NC State).  Ryan is the rare individual who is able to draw upon his creativity for ideas and use his capabilities and skills to put ideas into form.  Ryan urged businesses and manufacturers to optimize the entire R&D process from the get-go.  Ryan’s list for improvement and innovation within the manufacturing process is impressive, and might be considered experimental thinking for many companies.  However, he encourages firms to give consideration to his recommendations:

  1. Hire creative, intelligent people, and let them loose doing their “thing”.
  2. Hire people who can spot opportunities and forming trends.
  3. Consider the environment within which these folks will work–promote collaboration through the correct furnishings, providing lots of white board surface for spontaneous design thought. This group is constrained when locked in a cubicle–creative and innovative thoughts demand partnership and room to co-work, brainstorm and design.
  4. Research, research, research!  Review all the research available, and take advantage of resource groups like Epinions to survey customers, potential users and non-users.
  5. Keep your finger on the pulse of what is next.  Frequent sources including, KickStarterTEDx , Gizmodo, etc.
  6. Use the product/item yourself, and watch others use it. Put yourself in the “end-user” position and determine the good, bad, ugly, wonderful, etc. about the product.
  7. Look outside your core to determine feasible new products.
  8. Build and refine.  Use outside vendors to help you with the most up to date technology in materials.  Embrace Rapid Prototyping.  Share with your team and  within your company.  Ask for feedback.  Refine if necessary. Join PDMA , an organization that provides opportunities for professional development, education, experience, networking and recognition. 
  9. Finally, Ryan stressed that it is vital for companies to understand the difference between Product Development and R&D.

Melanie Sudduth and Chris Wayne from the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership provided information to the group about SCMEP’s Strategic Growth Acceleration program, which was designed specifically for small to mid-sized companies looking to grow.  It is the only program to provide immediate improvements in sales and marketing, and establishes a pipeline for future growth ideas.  SCMEP is a 501(c)3, not-for-profit group with five service areas within the state.  (Not surprisingly, Greenville is the largest service area within the state, with over 1200 manufacturers residing in the county.)

An affiliate of the National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), SCMEP operates under the US Dept of Commerce to promote innovation and industrial competitiveness. SCMEP’s focus is on supplying small to mid-size South Carolina companies with the training, tools and processes businesses need to be more competitive in today’s increasingly demanding global economy.  Many successful South Carolina businesses turn to SCMEP for guidance, growth, and the application of valuable services ranging from operations improvement, engineering and product development, maintenance and facilities to human resources, sales and marketing, accounting and finance and executive management.

 InnoVision Forums are a knowledge sharing series providing professional development to help businesses and individuals stay informed on leading-edge technology advances.  

 Martha Winebarger
InnoVision Advisory Board Member