1 Nov 15|Innovation

The Hunter Manufacturing Awards held in October acknowledged world-class companies operating in the region.

The Hunter Manufacturing Awards held in October acknowledged world-class companies operating in the region. The ability to drive innovation from the perspective of customer-centricity was a common theme among the winners.

The concept of customer–centricity is not new. Put simply, it places the customer at the heart of all ideating, all designing and all product and service development. Problem solving is integral to the process, particularly when we are able to identify and solve problems our customers don’t even know they have. If you can identify one of these ‘pain points’ and you can come up with the ‘liniment’ to ease the pain, you have an idea or a product potentially worth developing.

Listening to Tom Kelley from IDEO speak at the Front End Innovation Conference in Boston earlier this year was inspirational. A light bulb seemingly went off around the room, as he spoke about the role technology has to play in our future. “Our best work comes as we blend technology with humanity…what will humans need?”

Portable Safety Cam (PSC) took out the Board Award at HMA and epitomise what Kelley was talking about. The camera monitors up to four workers in confined spaces utilising technology to keep workers safe and simultaneously reduce costs.

When running innovation programs I can sound like a record (how analogue is that) on repeat. One of my most common phrases is ‘adapt and adopt’. PSC’s confined space monitoring can be adapted to so many industries other than mining. I’m thinking underground tunnels and subways and a myriad of other situations triggered by the words ‘confined space’. PCS in collaboration with the Australian Submarine Corporation have already prototyped a wireless version that can be used in submarines.

Customer-centricity means having the ability to adapt products to the needs of each customer’s particular pain-point, and that is what led the HMA judges to award DELTAwater Solutions the Marketing prize. “Knowing our product, knowing our customers and adapting to changing markets” is a winning formula. And DELTAwater thrive on the person-to-person interaction they maintain with their customers. Technology meeting human needs ensured the development of customer-centric products. Human meeting human for a meal is still acknowledged as the best way to seal the deal!

Stepping out of the Hunter, a company in NYC have developed and manufactured SkySaver. It’s a high-rise rescue and evacuation device – a vest you wear like a life-jacket – with up to 80m of cable contained in the lining. If you need to evacuate a tall building, you clip on the vest and attach it to a bolt that is secured above a window. You then lower yourself down and send the vest back up again for the next person. SkySaver was ideated through necessity as a result of the development of high-rise buildings.

So how can you identify that idea worth pursuing?

Manufacturing companies could look at ways to adapt what they already offer to other industries. Food, Health and Medicine are growing industry sectors. In the Bronx in NYC there is a warehouse growing varieties of lettuce in vertical layers using only mist for irrigation. The food is bagged and delivered fresh to outlets within a limited radius, minimising the carbon emitted on long transport hauls.

You can also create time to ‘explore possibility’. The 80:20 rule often sounds cliché yet if you don’t allow time for Research and Development, innovation won’t stand a chance. This is Business Development 101.

Finally, keep your heart and mind continuously open to opportunities. The more opportunities you create, the greater chance you have that one of them will come off. As Seth Godin said, “the person that invented the car invented the car crash”. I don’t imagine that we will run out of problems that need solving any time soon.

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