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Blog – Getting innovation and production to play nice together

Blog – Getting innovation and production to play nice together

The journey from drawing board to reality is a difficult one. There are a myriad of obstacles to overcome so it’s vital that you have all of your ducks in a row from the beginning.

Integra Systems has seen the chaos that can arise from not having a well-integrated production process. The Hughes family – Paul, Russell and Erika – believe that communication, trust and the right organisational alignment are among the key elements in ensuring innovation and production ‘play nice’ together. 

“Innovation is not always about massive, inventive breakthroughs,” explains Integra’s Commercial Director, Erika Hughes. “Working together with the production team allows you to create new innovations on a smaller scale, not just on these grand, inventive scales.”

“I think a lot of people make the mistake of trying to innovate with old technology and old mindsets and old machinery,” continues Erika. “I think that’s a really important factor – thinking more about advanced manufacturing in a high-tech manufacturing era. Innovation is working together with an innovative approach to production, as well as design.”

The innovation and design handshake

As Managing Director of Integra Systems, Paul Hughes believes it’s impossible to innovate without having a closely aligned design and production team from both a geographical, physical and cultural standpoint.  

“Culturally, it's paramount your design and production teams are talking together, otherwise you can't progress innovation,” Paul observes. “Designers really need direct access to the production machinery and the tools, and the production team members need to be able to directly feed back their knowledge to designers so that innovation and change can happen.”

Director of Innovation at Integra, Russell Hughes, expands on Paul’s philosophy, explaining how product design and manufacturing relies heavily on incremental advances in the development phase on the path to becoming reality.

“Once you set out the design, if you haven't got the manufacturing involved, well, sometimes [the product] can't be made,” Russell says. “So you’ve got to do a lot of little incremental steps all the way and that gets the product perfect. It won't be perfect the first time you go at it but that's what innovation's about.”

“Yes,” agrees Paul. “The innovation is often not in the product itself – it's in the process. It might be the way you apply a particular machine to do a job, more so than the actual product that's being made.”

This is a philosophy that underscores everything Integra Systems does. For example, the two key designers at Integra come from different points of view – one is a mechanical designer and the other comes from an industrial design background. 

“They're quite often in tradesman's clothes, spending half their day at the computer on the CAD and then rest of the time in the factory putting together prototypes or that kind of thing,” laughs Paul. And then Russell adds: “You wouldn't know, really, whether they're part of the production team or the design team, they’re so well integrated.”

Going offshore could mean off-kilter

With their decades of experience, The Hughes’ have numerous examples at hand of what can go wrong when the cultural and physical aspects of the production process aren’t carefully aligned.

Paul and Russell believe, while the savings to your bottom-line might seem almost too good to pass up, going offshore to countries like China can often cost you more in the long-run.

“We've come across a lot of manufacturers who've got their own product but they've decided to take it offshore and get it out of a low-cost country like China,” explains Paul. “But our theory is, as soon as the design stops, the innovation stops. You lose control of your product and it'll just basically become commoditised. You remove your advantage.”

Paul and Russell recount the story of a local manufacturer who transferred his operations to China because of the so-called ‘cost savings’. As Russell remarks, this decision was arguably a fatal one for the company in question.

“[They were] making barbecues in Australia and they transferred it all to China because it was cheap. But the end product was an absolute mess to put together. It was worse than trying to build the Ettamogah Pub!”

“They couldn't talk to one another,” Russell continues. “Screws didn’t fit, everything was a real mess. But, if they could have been together – the manufacturer working with the designers – they could have made a lovely job of it. Instead, they farmed it offshore too quickly and they struggled.”

It all comes down to trust

The ability to trust the people you’re working with, and sharing their values, is an important element in getting innovation and design to play nice.

“You can't have open innovation without trust,” states Erika. “Anybody who's got a really, really good idea needs to find a partner who's able to make that real for them, so their values need to be aligned.”

“They also need to understand the whole process, not just the idea,” she continues. “They need to know the whole product development process then partner up with a company who is like-minded and can make that a reality for them.”

So what would be the most important piece of advice the Hughes’ could pass on to someone with a great idea looking to take the next step?

“That's a hard one,” muses Paul. “We see a lot of people with a good idea go to a company that might be a pure industrial design company, and the industrial design companies who haven't got manufacturing associated directly with their company can tend to get people in a constant loop of design without really getting them a full outcome. Or they might tend to hand over a design prematurely for manufacture, when it's not really ready.”

“I think it is important for people who are looking for an idea to be made to look at someone who can completely see that product through from go to whoa.”

“What we've always said is, not one person knows everything,” admits Erika. “So working with clients, we use the terminology ‘open innovation’. It's about staff having an intimate knowledge of the clients.”

As Erika concludes, “All that knowledge combined with our innovative thinking is what creates something extraordinary.”

Learn more about how Integra makes your vision real – www.integrasystems.com.au

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON June 25 2018
Written by Emma Westwood