Innovation compass image with hi-res rendered artwork that could be used for any graphic design.

by Michael Griffith, NWIRC Manufacturing Technology Engineer

Small- and medium- sized manufacturers outsource support functions as an integral part of their cost-cutting and business growth initiatives. Legal, payroll, tax preparation, web design, and information systems management are examples of a manufacturer’s ancillary business activities that require specialized knowledge and skill to operate a manufacturing business but not required in the detailed process of manufacturing products.  Experts of these tasks have also developed efficient processes that make the outputs of their efforts very accurate and effective.

Research and development is another manufacturing support function that can be outsourced. Innovation, R&D and technology acceleration experts often have knowledge, skills, comprehensive and systematic processes, and resources that are not intrinsic of in-house manufacturing engineers and scientists.  Similar to outsourcing other support functions, a manufacturer can capitalize on these innovation capabilities to conduct or improve research and development projects that develop or implement new products and processes to advance operations and/or grow their business.

This collective and collaborative research and development process between a manufacturer and innovation / technology acceleration expert is part of the much broader idea commonly called, Open Innovation. In this narrowed definition of Open Innovation, an innovation / technology acceleration expert can utilize vast resources to explore existing and proven technology to solve complex business problems or improves operational processes, or evaluate a manufacturer’s technology based asset for potential application and market viability.

The state-wide Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center Network (IRC) is developing an Open Innovation framework that will enhance our state’s small and medium sized manufacturer’s ability to develop and implement new technology and products utilizing the most effective and efficient processes along with a comprehensive list of subject matter expert resources.

Consider Lehigh Valley Plastics (LVP), a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based state-of-the-art machine shop, fabricator and distributor of advanced plastic components and materials. The production process for one of LVP’s plastic parts called for turning utilizing centers designed for machining metal, not plastic.  As a result, the turning centers were frequently shut down to remove plastic stringers that wrapped around the turning center’s chucks.  A Pennsylvania IRC Network Center partnered with Research Triangle Institute (RTI) International to research potential solution spaces and identify the best solution for LVP.  The implemented solution reduced operating costs by thousands of dollars per year, significantly in-creased machine capacity and reduced safety risks in removing stringers.

The benefits of engaging in Open Innovation are numerous:

  • Researched and detailed solutions by specialized, out-of- the-box thinking experts that solve process issues or support product development
  • Detailed insight and evaluation of potential markets, including trends and opportunities
  • Competitive intelligence to enhance planning and growth
  • Potential new partners and/or customers
  • Internal engineering staff remain focused on their manufacturing engineering projects

Contact your NWIRC Strategic Business Advisor to learn more about how the Open Innovation support function can impact your operation.

Michael Griffith has a Bachelors Degree in Chemical Engineering and Masters of Business Administration from Penn State University, and fifteen years’ experience in manufacturing.


Click here for a brief video, Invitation to Open Innovation, produced by the PA IRCs.