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How can I innovate my way out of this mess?

Utilizing Automation by Engineers in Nova Scotia to Improve Process Engineering

Alastair Trower, Enginuity Business Development

My phone is ringing off the hook these days, and everybody’s pretty much asking the same question: “I want to get back to making my widgets/designing my product etc., but it’s got to be a bit different. Can you help?”

All of us in the manufacturing and entrepreneurship space are wondering how we’re going to make the best of this bad situation. But the question we should be asking is “How do I rise to the top of the heap?”

Courtesy of COVID-19, we’re facing lots of challenges: Social distancing on the manufacturing floor means fewer people working; fewer people working means everything takes longer. Raw material sources are drying up (there’s no clear plastic right now!) and supply chains are overloaded and interrupted. Some traditional market demand has evaporated. What are people going to buy? We don’t know, and our usual ways of finding out might not work.

Why should I innovate my way out of this mess?

The answer is the same as it always is in times of crisis: People who innovate quickly rise to the top.

During the Second World War, car manufacturers started to produce airplane parts. And at the end of the war, companies had to figure out what to do with all those leftover airplane materials. Enter Land Rover. It was designed for war, but proved useful for farmers. The shit-ton of aluminum left over from manufacturing Spitfire wings was the perfect solution. Demand identified; raw material sourced. The Land Rover launched 3 years after the end of the war, it became THE all-terrain vehicle of choice used by military and NGO’s worldwide, a full three decades before other manufacturers cottoned on to the idea that regular folks might enjoy SUVs.

This crisis is an opportunity: leverage mechanical engineering and automation mixed with creative design to update your manufacturing capability, refresh your supply chains, re-evaluate your markets, and get people back to work. Costs are going up. How do you do more with less and use technology to address the enforced shortage of labour?

The three key questions to ask yourself about innovating are no different from what they always are:

  1. Is there a market for my product or process? Where were my clients six months ago? Where are they now? How can I adapt? You need to scrub away your own attachments to your existing product or process and be unafraid of the answers to these questions (we’re here to help with this part — and don’t worry, we’ll be nice). If your clients no longer want to buy what you’re selling, it’s time to pivot.
  2. Can I raise the money? How have the funding models and opportunities changed in the past three months? Who is investing? How are they choosing? Funding opportunities that directly relate to the current crisis will likely get more traction.
  3. Can the innovation I want to achieve be done cost-effectively? This is where Enginuity’s unique Discovery and Product Development process really pays off. We’ve been innovating in the COVID space from the very beginning, partnering with Health Authorities and regional companies to design & manufacture PPE, medical equipment, and other innovations. We know the design engineering it takes to get you from idea to design, prototype, fabrication, build, and test. Our process is clean, focused, and we don’t dawdle. If it’s possible and cost-effective, we’ll figure out how to make it happen.

I know there’s comfort in getting back to normal, but “We’ve always done it this way” is not a risk management strategy.

It’s a trap, and it’s time to innovate your way out of it.

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