Improving External Collaboration in the Manufacturing Industry

By Derek Singleton posted 02-10-2012 14:42


I’ve been covering the manufacturing industry as a software analyst for the last year and a half over at Software Advice, a website that helps manufacturers find the right software selection. Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing how tools such as Salesforce’s Chatter are making their way into the industry and looking at the ways they can improve supply chain and shop floor collaboration. All of this thinking about collaboration in the industry got me thinking: why should collaboration be limited to within the “four walls” on the enterprise?

Lately, crowdsourcing has started to receive more attention a viable way to innovate in the industry and design and develop products. With the eyes of the nation focusing once again on manufacturing as an key innovation sector in the United States, I thought it would be worth looking at how crowdsourcing can help the industry.

Crowdsourcing Speeds Up Innovation
Relying on crowdsourcing in the manufacturing industry can accelerate the pace of innovation in the industry. By now it’s pretty well documented that if run properly, crowdsourcing can bring products to market faster and at a lower cost. Proctor & Gamble tried out crowdsourcing a while back to find a way to print images onto their Pringles cans. Their search led them to a small Italian bakery that had figured out how to print images onto pastries. Proctor & Gamble licensed the technology and was able to bring their idea to market in a little under a year.

Because crowdsourcing proved successful in this instance, they decided to expand their crowdsourcing efforts are currently rely on outside collaboration for a full 50 percent of their innovations. But they’re not alone, several large companies have started to lean on the wisdom of crowds for production innovation. Among them are companies like Chlorox, 3M, Johnson & Johnson and many others.

How to Bring Crowdsourcing into the Mainstream
So why are these companies the exception rather than the rule? Well, it turns out that there are a few roadblocks. The roadblocks are: fear of change, uncertainty about intellectual property rights, and a lack of design sharing technologies. Luckily, each of these obstacles can be overcome. Here are three ways to bring crowdsourcing into mainstream manufacturing.

  1. Start small and work your way up. A lot of manufacturing companies are uneasy about opening up their development process to outside influences. To work around this mentality, companies should start off using crowdsourcing for a small project to get management used to this method of innovation. After a few successes, they can work their way up to bigger projects.
  1. Protect intellectual property by dividing responsibilities. Of course, one of the greatest fears is that by opening up product development to outsiders can result in stealing intellectual property and sharing it with competitors. This is a legitimate concern but one that can be mitigated by compartmentalizing roles of the project. By narrowly defining who gets access to what, the problem of intellectual property theft can be managed.
  1. Make it easier to share design files. Right now, there is no standard for sharing CAD files because there is no standard software format for the files. This makes it difficult for project collaborators to share their designs with others. Without a way to share files, it’s pretty tough to change and adapt different designs. Creating a universal standard for CAD files could greatly enhance the potential for crowdsourcing and collaborative innovation.

A few years ago, crowdsource product development really wasn’t even part of any discussion on innovation in the manufacturing industry. But times appear to be changing. Whether that change can continue, however, is dependent on how well the industry is able to navigate these obstacles.

#enterprise2.0 #Collaboration