Creating a new product is a large investment for big and small companies alike. From a manufacturing perspective, a company might have to invest in new equipment or shut down a current production line to make a prototype. A line interruption could last even longer than planned if the prototype needs to be reconfigured for easier production or to better meet a market need. To help make this process easier, UI Labs has created a manufacturing research and development (R&D) for-hire platform that enables manufacturers to build prototypes on a dedicated innovation line.
According to Crain’s Chicago Business, UI Labs hosts its 25,000-square-foot Digital Manufacturing Design & Innovation Institute (DMDII) in Chicago. Throughout the past year, DMDII has invested in machinery — including 3D printers, modular assembly cells and computer-controlled machining devices — software and staff to recreate all or part of an assembly line. Manufacturers can utilize this service to produce a new product or make an existing product a new way. This, in turn, can prevent companies from sacrificing their own production lines in the interest of innovation.
Currently 319 companies belong to DMDII. Tier 1 members, including Dow, Lockheed Martin, McKinsey, Rolls-Royce and Siemens, contribute $5 million in fees and in-kind contributions throughout a span of five years to support the institute. Tier 2 members, such as Boeing and Caterpillar, pay $1 million, and the institute’s 226 Tier 3 members pay $2,500 each. Nonmembers also can hire DMDII’s services.
Because the institute is set up for innovation, the R&D process takes significantly less time than it would take a manufacturer to conduct the same experiment in-house. For example, Rolls-Royce engineers tested three new manufacturing processes and tools at DMDII. This process would have taken three months for the British manufacturer to complete at its own facilities, but this was all accomplished in one week at the UI Labs site.
"For a large company, there's a huge disruption when you take an existing line and, for lack of a better word, mess with it," said Thomas McDermott, executive director at the institute and chief program officer at UI Labs, in the article. "That's very risky. What we do is, we de-risk it and we allow you to accelerate [R&D]."
DMDII also helps small, midsize and large manufacturers better understand and improve their manufacturing processes. For example, institute experts could help employees at a machine shop understand why a certain part receives a varying amount of grease, McDermott explained in the article. "Bring us a use case or manufacturing challenge, and we will work with you to vet, prove out, [and] prototype a working solution,” he said.
Although there are many risks and challenges associated with innovation, there are consequences for missing out on opportunities too. The APICS Dictionary defines innovation risk as, “The risk of losing customers because another firm creates more innovative products.”
APICS magazine and other APICS publications work to keep you abreast of the latest technology and cutting-edge ideas in the field so that you can avoid innovation risk and keep up with your peers. In fact, the APICS magazine website has a whole section dedicated to Innovation and Global Trends. Catch up on the news today at apics.org/magazine.