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Break down the barriers to new ideas

Break down the barriers to new ideas

Loren Ball, president of Permanent Technologies, Inc., has a suggestion for manufacturers: Be more open to new ideas and products that can help you solve engineering-design problems.

Too often, he says, companies get so focused on their own product line that they don't take to new ideas on components. "That attitude restricts suppliers from proving the value of their product," Ball says.

If he is right, that attitude has a direct impact on Ball and his new company-and on every component supplier.

Ball has invented what he calls a vibration-proof fastener. It's a one-way nut-and-bolt combination that locks the nut and bolt at predetermined positions, which, he says, eliminates the possibility that vibration will loosen the nut or bolt. Inventing, it seems, was the easy part. Getting over the barrier against new ideas may be harder. "Sometimes, there's the 'not-invented-here' syndrome, and other times it's that companies don't want to change the specs they have in place or disrupt their distribution chain," says Ball.

Now it's true that not every company runs into that barrier. Penn Engineering, for example, has found that while engineers might be reluctant to incur the cost of changing prints they are still open to new design ideas. (Penn also makes locking fasteners that resist vibration.)

But many other companies feel Ball's pain. Says Karl Klinger, product manager for ifm efector inc.: "Even some of our own suppliers are sometimes reluctant to change their component prints to accommodate us."

Some industries are notorious for being conservative. Case in point: the auto industry.

"In the automotive industry, car manufacturers make more money if they don't change products because the change can affect their margins," says Nick Kopchick, vice president for product development at International Rectifier.

What's the solution? Ball encourages engineers to look beyond distributors and insist that if traditional components don't solve their problems they need authority to try new ones. Adds International Rectifier's Kopchick, be tenacious. Good advice for any endeavor.

TAGS: Materials
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