Wednesday, June 8, 2011

What is OI and What is its Impact to 3D Printing?

That is a question I found myself asking as I listened to some of the thought leaders in the field at the recent 5th annual Open Innovation Conference in Philadelphia. I travelled there with an open mind about the definitions and possibilities. From prior experience and research, I had some preconceived notions about what I would hear and believed OI to be comprised of many components. To some, OI might have the same meaning as open source or open innovation, collaborating on challenging problems and sharing solutions with anyone interested in applying them. To others it might mean creating partnerships with suppliers or strategic links with research universities or complementary players in target markets. And to still others, OI could relate somehow to opening the internal innovation process to customers and non-customers through the “cloud” by means of crowd sourcing, mob sourcing, social media and a host of other means made possible by the rapid advancement of internet capabilities.

As the conference wound down and I reflected on what I had heard, I was pleased that my prediction was correct and that depending on who you talk to, OI has widely different meaning and application throughout industry today. For example Clorox, a multinational consumer cleaning-product company, recognizes the need for creating value upstream, downstream, and through partnership. They take a win-balance approach meaning that, to be successful there must be value for everyone contributing to innovation. Upstream, suppliers are included in the Clorox development process and incentivized to actively contribute. Downstream, they look to involve end users through the use of crowd sourcing and initiatives such as Clorox Connect, a website separate from their corporate site, where anyone can contribute to new product ideas. To National Instrument and Tektronix, OI was the foundation for a partnership between these two industry leaders with complementary technologies for the same markets. By opening up their innovation processes they were able to combine their core competencies into a single revolutionary product. Sealed Air put together a program to look specifically at creating value from unused IP through license or other means. During the research phase in most companies, concepts are dismissed because the technology developed doesn’t meet the target requirements. The work is often novel and valuable but doesn’t fit the company goals at that time. Allowing others to use it is a good way to recover research costs.

Open innovation in its many embodiments is clearly here to stay. The enabling technologies that unleash the power of OI are advancing faster than most companies can keep up with. The ones that stay close to the leading edge will see a competitive advantage. Those that don’t will have to work harder to catch up. In the 3D printing world, the power of OI can be seen in knowledge sharing across the web. Open source sites are advancing capability, awareness, and accessibility. New use occasions and markets are benefiting solely from the desire to advance technology through knowledge. The old adage that knowledge is power is as true today as ever. But, a shift seems to have occurred from the realization that the knowledge of many is exponentially more powerful and useful than knowledge closed off to but a few.

I’m curious how others perceive OI. Is it a threat to competition? What does it mean in your organization?


  1. We see open innovation as open source, shared community development, the trouble then lies in protecting any novel i.p. and making investment in required production equipment attractive. Many organisations can benefit from a more collaborative innovation in an "open" way, getting their teams involved in the design throughout the project. Recent developments in social media have impacted the way we can communicate and interact with each other. We have harnessed this fast and collaborative communication, and placed it at the heart of our design process. We use a secure login for all assigned project members, who must all agree to an NDA before using the system to avoid open disclosure of the shared work. All requirements, decisions and discussions about the project occur in one place, making it easy to identify which source new i.p came from and so it can be correctly protected. No more searching though endless emails, all information is at hand whenever you need, whenever you want. Fast and easy feedback, improved communication and reduced delay, allowing a much bigger team to impact and reflect on product development decisions without the need for large team meeting and discussions. The aim is to extract as much knowledge from our clients whole team rather those directly commissioning the work.

  2. It sounds like Itergn has embraced open innovation in a productive way. Companies such as yours that take advantage of technology in order to improve collaboration will benefit in the long run.