Companies that want to spur innovation need to find collaboration partners, according to Jon Riley, vice president of digital manufacturing at the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, a non-profit, applied R&D institution. “All we do is collaboration,” says Riley. “We have a vision for a vibrant, competitive U.S. manufacturing base that is driven by innovation and powered by collaboration and really confident in a future of success.”

Riley was the initial speaker and moderator at the panel discussion on “Accelerating Innovation through Collaboration” on Tuesday morning at CAMX. He mentioned three challenges to innovation:

  • Technology – the customer’s existing infrastructure, products and processes can be difficult to overcome.
  • Economics – the current provider may have economic advantages over competitors because they have an existing relationship.
  • Politics – people don’t like change or have different measures of success even in the same company.

Trust is the essential foundation for effective collaboration, he added.

Jim Staargaard, president and CEO of Plasan Carbon Composites, discussed how collaboration with seven different partners helped his company create a composite frame to replace the magnesium frame for the removable roof of a Corvette. One essential is to involve customers in the project early on so they have buy-in, he said.

Dr. Steven Shepard, president of Thermal Wave Imaging Inc., spoke about how his company worked in a collaborative process to improve thermography technology, making it more effective in inspection processes. He noted that the ideal collaborations involve primary tech suppliers, small applications and the end users working together.

The University of Delaware Center for Composite Materials (UD-CCM) has partnered with many different agencies and private companies with the goal of moving technology from the research and development phase to the market, according to Dirk Heider, assistant director. One recent project for NASA involved an impact-resistant space suit for lunar and Mars exploration.

During the discussion period, the audience and panel members touched on several issues that could derail or slow the collaborative process, including bureaucracy. “Bureaucracy will kill innovation,” says Staargaard. “The more restrictions you put on people to innovate, the less you will get out of them.”

“For us, a synonym for bureaucracy sometimes is inertia,” added Shepard. For instance, his company has had large aerospace companies ask them to accomplish something within a very short time frame. While Thermal Wave Imaging could meet the schedule, the customers’ internal procurement departments could not get the necessary processes completed to accommodate the product timeline.