Whether it's in medical, aerospace, food and beverage, consumer, automotive or energy companies, the long-term goal of a product design/development team is to define the next revolution of technology in their respective sector, with the sole purpose of obsoleting their technology ahead of a potential competitor. However, the timeline in which such efforts must succeed has shrunk significantly. Companies don't have the luxury of waiting 10-15 years.
Instead, product development companies should heed the call to action and start identifying not just incremental improvements to their products, but also consider radical change, including forced obsolescence to define new product platforms that otherwise might not have been considered.
To do this effectively, engineers should identify parts of the design that offer the most value to the systems in which they operate, and its intended goals. As part of that analysis, identify one or more parts in a product that offer critical value to its overall system, without which, the system might collapse, either literally or figuratively.
In an intentional design for obsolescence, innovators should consider removing this high-value part entirely. This will establish very real and challenging constraints to the system that will define design criteria to achieve the original goal, but in ways that very likely would not have been considered in the current product's lifecycle. It will define a generational leap in the product's evolution.
Imagine what could completely obsolete a cardiovascular stent or replace the most powerful of machine hydraulics with remote action. Could radically new personal automobiles eliminate the internal combustion engine and obsolete our thinking about batteries?
For inspiration, one need look no further than their own home. You may be surprised to learn that your bathroom is on the front lines of radical innovation. Ohio-based Magnet was approached with the very real problem of eliminating leaks common to conventional toilets, which annually lead to millions of gallons of water being wasted each year in homes and businesses across the globe. Magnet, with the help of Invention Machine Goldfire, designed, validated and produced a displacement valve using a pocket of air and a buoyancy valve to block water flow, rendering traditional stoppers, flappers and similar solutions obsolete. Think about it. In order to stop a toilet flapper from leaking, the best solution was to remove the flapper.
Such approaches, while controversial on the surface, if not unorthodox, define questions that lend themselves to proven innovation methodologies and tools. The results, when successful, are undeniably powerful and game-changing.
If you make a widget that has become dominant in the marketplace, work on getting rid of it now. Use existing innovation platforms to accelerate and sustain the innovation process. If you don't, chances are you'll become a laggard and find yourself playing your competitor's game in the next six to nine months. Jim Belfiore is senior director, client innovation and practices at Invention Machine, the innovation software company focused on driving sustainable innovation in global organizations. www.invention-machine.com.
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Siemens and Georgia Institute of Technology are partnering to address limitations in the current additive manufacturing design-to-production chain in an applied research project as part of the federally backed America Makes program.
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