Cornerstones of Innovation: How Companies Create Success in Research and Development
Research and Development (R&D) is often spoken of as a tool a company can use to create success. The truth is, though, that innovation isn’t just an added bonus for a company—it’s a cornerstone of success. In today’s reality, adoption rates of new technologies continue to speed up, which means that without a serious commitment to innovation, companies will be left behind quickly.
At Hytrol, R&D is part of our heritage. Our founder, Tom Loberg, was himself an inventor who turned ideas into innovative solutions his customers needed. We created our Technology Center in 1992, and continue to build on a legacy of industry-transforming solutions.
A commitment to innovation is key for any business to achieve success. For R&D to be a cornerstone of your company, remember the following pillars of R&D success.
High-level, long-term commitment
Innovation will not spontaneously combust.
You must carve out resources, or innovation will not happen. Make sure that at the top levels of your company, there is a commitment to making money, time and employee resources available for R&D. This means creating a dedicated space and a dedicated team. Be wary of the movement of resources out of an R&D department—during certain business cycles, there is often a push to reallocate those resources into hot priorities that are happening “today.” Without realizing it, we jeopardize the long-term success of the company by not developing the products we need to survive tomorrow.
This commitment means that research focused on solving customer problems—not just product specifications— also has to happen. Hytrol is in the unique position of being able to gather information from our integration partners, who are often the voice of the customer. Their focus on a complete solution gives us great insight into what a material handling solution must do, and the direction it must go. Commitment to innovation means commitment to your customers.
Innovation is as much about culture as about process.
The rate at which new technologies are developed and adopted continues to accelerate across every industry and area of our lives. New products are being introduced at a higher and higher rate with the goal of solving more and more problems for the customer.
That speedy pace means that, simply put, a product that does not work the way you’d initially hoped it would isn’t a failure in R&D. Part of pushing the boundaries of material handling means that there will be elements of what we design here that can be implemented in another product down the line. A technology or concept that may not have a market today may be the ideal solution in the future.
Therefore, it is important to have a culture that celebrates experimentation and exploration of new technologies and ideas.
Create processes, manage projects and be intentional
Innovation has to leave the lab.
Redefining failure doesn’t mean that you can haphazardly create new products. You must create processes that work—from brainstorming to product release. Every part of the R&D process must be intentional. Create stage gate processes that include business cases, conceptual designs, prototype designs, prototype builds & tests, production designs, beta builds & tests, launch readiness and first-year production reviews.
Then, follow the process. Don’t create rules just to break them. The success of each project depends on your ability to follow through. Capture and learn the lessons from one project to the next. Institutionalize the process as the normal way of doing business.
The innovations of tomorrow require you to be diligent today. If you want to be considered a true innovator, create a solid foundation on which you can build the products that solve your customers’ problems and take the industry into the next generation.
About the Author
Ben Moyer is Hytrol's director of research and development. Ben has served in a wide range of leadership roles within the material handling industry and is responsible for leading the new product development team and overseeing technological upgrades to the Hytrol Technology Center.