Process improvement in product innovation: How changing your processes will save you money.

James Utterbeck's "Mastering the Dynamics of Innovation' is a book which expertly dissects some of the major successes (and failures) of companies that have leveraged innovation as a means of moving their companies forward.

His examples include the manual typewriter vs the electric typewriter vs the word processor, and natural ice vs shipped ice vs the refrigerator. It's a very interesting and well written book worth anybody's time.

But this isn't a book review! I wanted to focus on one part of the book where James discusses the light bulb and its innovations.

The story is quite simple. Illumination used to be provided by gas lamps. Thomas Edison set to work to create an electric lamp and succeeded through technical innovation. The race was then on to innovate through manufacturing processes to keep the cost down, the quality up, and the volumes high.

Over the years between 1885 and 1903 the following major process innovations occurred:
  • Use of a mercury pump reduced the time to create a vacuum in a light bulb from 5 hours to 30 minutes
  • A semi automated  'past-mold' machine was used to replace hand blown glass bulbs
  • A machine was used to seal in the wired lamp base
  • The process of adding phosphor to a bulb was perfected as a means of ensuring total evacuation of the oxygen.
  • A stem making machine was developed to assemble glass stems, lead-in wires and filament supports.
  • A tubulating machine yet again improved the process of exhausting air from the bulb during the manufacturing process.

Prior to this, a light bulb needed 200 manufacturing steps - most of them manual - but by 1903 the number of steps was down to around 20 and the cost of a new bulb had fallen from a dollar a bulb to around 15 cents. All this was accomplished using a design that was fundamentally identical to the original. Process innovations - both in the machines used and the method of using them - led to dramatically increased production volumes and reduced prices.

This is absolute proof that a process improvement can pay for itself in the short or medium term.

So, in todays environment, where are the process improvements you can make that will reduce your costs, increase your profitability, and improve our throughput?

More to the point, if process improvements are profit centres, why are you not heading down that road as we speak?

Reminder: '"The Perfect Process Project' is still available. Don't miss the chance to get this valuable insight into how to make business processes work for you.

Click this link and follow the instructions to see why you should buy this book.

For more about me check out my "About Me' page

All information is Copyright (C) G Comerford

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