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Process Innovation as a Solid Foundation

Posted on May 10th, 2016 by in Chemical Manufacturing Excellence

assembly line

When we think about innovation, for most of us, it’s game changing products that spring to mind. Disruptive technology, new materials, iPhones and iPads; the products that have a massive and sudden impact on the world around us that tend to earn the “innovative” label.

But it isn’t just new products that can be game-changing. The often overlooked but perhaps most significant area of innovation in modern industry is in the reimagining of adopted processes. Whether it’s a particular manufacturing process, the way the feasibility of a new concept is assessed or a product testing procedure, the processes we implement underpin everything else that we do. Like it or not, it’s often our processes that enable, or limit, what we can offer to our users, customers and clients.

Yet when trying to innovate, most businesses tend to focus on product instead of process. Instead of looking at how things are done, we often pay much more attention to what’s being done.

A Focus On The “How?”

There are plenty of examples of companies who realize success because of their processes at least as much as because of their products. Henry Ford and his moving assembly line is perhaps one of the most well-known examples, but there are countless others, too.

At a conference in Italy, Ji Oh Song, Executive Vice President of Samsung, said “If we got out of manufacturing, we lose.” He wasn’t saying that nobody else in the world could manufacture products to the same standard as Samsung (although that may well be a view he also holds). If manufacturing was outsourced it’s quite possible that the actual output, the product, would remain the same.

But the process that underpins the product would be radically changed if Samsung were not in control of its own manufacturing. For Samsung, the ability to manufacture in-house is hugely important as part of their research and development process. They have developed and honed their processes such that they enable product innovation. Their processes allow them to innovate, to deliver world-leading products and to, ultimately, achieve success.

Samsung, like most successful companies, have invested in how they do things as well as  mthinking about what they’re doing.

Process Innovation

Just as with products, what was once a world-leading process which perfectly met the needs of the company it served, processes can stagnate. Processes have the potential to be restrictive, cumbersome and unhelpful. Processes can get in the way.

And so process innovation is critically important. There should be a continual investment in improving the way things are done. Although there is a subtle difference between “continuous improvement” and “process innovation” which we’ll cover in a later post, keeping an eye on how things are done is an important factor for success.

The right processes provide the foundation, solid or otherwise, which enable products to be developed, manufactured and delivered. Investing in and actively pursuing process innovation can sometimes lead to disruptive gains and big wins, and sometime to gradual and incremental improvement. Both are important and both are significant. Good processes underpin success and deserve more attention than they tend to be given.

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