Innovation, whether through the development of new products or processes, has become crucial for companies in virtually every industry. New technology holds the key to competitive advantage and, perhaps, survival. Product life seems to be shorter and shorter (Figure 1).
Figure 1. The lifecycle of a product to stay in business a company needs a steady stream of new ideas.
For manufacturers, the problem is particularly acute because of the ease with which competitors can outsource production. No longer can mature companies, with established manufacturing bases, count on an economy-of-scale advantage as a barrier to entry from new competitors.
Since 1964, Pressure Chemical Co. (www.pressurechemical.com) has worked with hundreds of customers from the large multi-national corporations to small entrepreneurial start-ups, applying unique configurations of equipment and extensive chemical expertise. These efforts have often resulted in new products, processes and, at times, new business segments for the client company. As expected of developmental projects, however, many failed to produce a successful innovation, though, in retrospect, a large number of the attempts did yield substantial savings for the sponsoring client. Early failures have prevented a company from making large investments in a process that wouldnt work as anticipated or in a product that couldnt meet the performance and economic needs of the marketplace.
Weve been able to observe scores of successes, near misses, and failures the entire range of potential results, says Larry Rosen, CEO of Pressure Chemical. In an effort to improve our own internal processes, we began to examine the data closely and realized that we had learned to do things in a new and different way, having seen the best and the worst of all the organizational processes used by our customers. With the help of an outside consultant, Droz and Associates, (www.droz.com) we cataloged our new products and processes that illustrated a variety of circumstances, parameters and goals. The consultant found that our method was a radical departure from traditional budget-driven, stage-gate approaches (Figure 2).
Figure 2. The cyclic C2C approach can correct the trajectory of a product during development.
Although attempts have been made to improve the traditional method, such as the CPM (Critical Path Method), (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_path_method) a joint venture between DuPont and the Remington Rand Corp., the approach was flawed. The Japanese, perhaps driven by their respect for W. Edwards Deming, evolved a step-gate method that looks back periodically to correct the trajectory of a project. Still, something was lacking.
Droz helped us to conceptualize the approach in a graphic manner that illustrates the central distinction of this cyclic route from the traditional straight-line approach. The key benefits of this novel approach, which we call Concept to Commercialization (C2C), (www.presschem.com/guide.htm) are reduction in time, cost and risk, akin to a hat trick in hockey, according to Rosen.
The goal of a recent project, undertaken for a major international manufacturer, was the hydrogenation of a polymer for use in high-capacity data storage. This client chose to outsource the project because of the diversity of appropriately sized equipment available in our facility. The base polymer had been produced by the client in its large continuous production facility and the scope of work was limited to hydrogenation. Unfortunately, market testing of the target product revealed that its properties failed to meet expectations. Because it wasnt feasible to interrupt commercial production to produce small quantities of differentiated precursors for further work, the client faced abandonment of the project.
In discussions centered upon future windows of opportunity to process additional samples, the client was introduced to the variety of resources and interdisciplinary team of specialists that could be assembled to move the project forward without substantial delay. The proposal presented to the client expanded the scope of work to include creation of a small polymerization system and synthesis of the triblock coRandpolymer precursor. Within three weeks, the project was back on track and demonstrating the best features of the nascent C2C Method.
The C2C method
The C2C method has a number of key distinctions: Unlike traditional, linear models of product development, its a cyclical process where one cycle inputs into the next and where a variety of solutions move repeatedly through a range of stages. It integrates rapid prototyping and multidisciplinary teams to allow numerous, and nearly simultaneous, iterations. Inspired, in part, by approaches and techniques commonly employed in food industry test kitchens, this method requires a devoted team, incorporating all appropriate disciplines and allowing a broad range of process options for comparison and contrast as to efficacy, scaling and suitability.
This method typically postpones confirmation of a concept until several iterative cycles have been conducted, to preserve flexibility and to allow incorporation of new ideas into a synthesized set of solutions. Traditional approaches frequently focus early on a preferred outcome rather than permitting the open consideration of alternatives.