Blog Menu

Innovation is Difficult

October 31, 2010

Filed under: additive manufacturing,manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 09:56

Creating a new product and making it a success can be downright difficult. The invention that is often required can be daunting. Jeff Disher, president of Disher Design & Manufacturing, discussed the subject in an article he authored for the September/October 2010 issue of Time Compression titled How to Achieve Success in Innovation.

Disher explained that only 50% of all patent applications were awarded in the past four years, according to the U.S. Patent Office. What’s more, he said that only 2% of all patents awarded reach the marketplace, citing The Innovators Bible as the source. He goes on to say that only 25% of inventions that reach the marketplace achieve profitable volume, according to the Product Development Institute. For all patent applications, only 0.25% are successful, so Disher put it like this: If you’re playing baseball, it’d be like getting a hit every 400 times at bat.

If you are an inventor or have an idea for a new product, all of this is not particularly good news. In fact, the odds are so much against you that I recommend you consider your options and decisions very carefully. Investors are well aware of these challenges, so financial support can be a very big hurdle. Be careful when using your own money because no one likes to lose it. I don’t mean to discourage you, but be vigilant and realistic.

The good news is that using additive manufacturing to produce some types of products is breaking the rules of product development and commercialization. If you can use additive manufacturing to avoid tooling, cost and risk are reduced to a minimum. Also, unconventional methods of marketing and distribution (e.g., Shapeways), make it far easier for someone to introduce a new product—if that product can  be produced by additive manufacturing.

Labor in China

October 15, 2010

Filed under: manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 16:07

The inevitable is underway: the cost for labor in China is rising. The reason, according to Leland Teschler, editor of Machine Design, is that the surplus labor from the countryside is drying up. In his August 2010 editorial titled Cheap labor in China? Not for long, Teschler said, “China is simply following the same path as other early industrial economies, in which a traditional agricultural sector exists along with a modern industrial sector in the cities.”

Teschler explained that at some point, demand exceeds supply and it’s happened before. He cites the UK’s first industrial revolution of the 1840s and Japan in the 1960s. China is on a similar path to wage growth that will increase the cost of manufacturing. “The number of young workers entering the labor force is set to drop by one-third over the next dozen years,” he stated.

Economists, according to Teschler, believe that the Chinese will grow only if it can improve efficiency. It’s unclear whether a country whose recent history has been characterized by throwing more people at a problem can swiftly transition to one of higher productivity.

11 Days in Where?

October 3, 2010

Filed under: event,travel — Terry Wohlers @ 15:31

My wife and I arrived with little sleep to meet friends from South Africa and England. We traveled together the next 48 hours to some of the most beautiful sites we had ever seen. The Julian Alps of western Slovenia are as spectacular as mountains can get. When I visited parts of this small, but scenic country two years earlier, I was impressed by the splendor, but there was more. Rivers, stone bridges, quaint villages, lakes, and waterfalls lined the routes we traveled by car and foot.

The natural beauty made an impression. It was the people, however, that made our recent visit complete. This trip confirmed what I learned some time ago: meetings and conferences are about personal interaction. Igor Drstvenšek of the University of Maribor (Maribor, Slovenia) led the organization of iCAT 2010, which set the stage for new business relationships and friendships. The three-day conference, held in Nova Gorica, Slovenia, was about as good as it gets. People from Africa, Asia, the former Eastern and Western Europe, and North America attended.

After five nights in Slovenia, we headed to Pag Island in Croatia along the Adriatic Sea. We stayed with some of the finest people you could meet, with home cooking that would rival the best restaurants anywhere. Better yet, we shared stories and laughs that could only occur with good friends and relatives. It was truly a special time with memories that will last a lifetime. We are grateful to those who made it possible.

We are also thankful to the individual that provided the motivation to visit Novigrad, Croatia. There are two places in Croatia named Novigrad and the one we visited is located about 30 km (19 miles) east of Zadar. This small, sleepy village, nestled along an inlet of the Adriatic Sea, is striking. It’s not a place you would stumble upon and that’s partly what makes it so interesting.

If you have not visited Slovenia or Croatia, add them to your “Bucket List.” They may be considered out of the way to some and it may take extra effort to organize and travel there, but it is absolutely worth it. And, have plenty of storage space on your camera because you’ll be taking scores of pictures. Click here to see 10 of the more than 300 that I shot.