For manufacturing to flourish and thrive, it needs to be fueled with innovation. Application of novel ideas and manufacturing engineering can help processes to yield products which are cheaper but also superior in terms of their environmental, technical, and customer impact.
One way to do this is the way Germans do it and they have proven that their model can accomplish the mission: The idea is to establish a network of government-private sector backed centers with the job of identifying, advancing and connecting high-value innovations to industry needs.
Fraunhofer Society is a case in point of how this approach works: The society has helped make Germany one of the leading exporters of high-tech manufactured goods, despite the country’s relatively high wages and high levels of regulation. In fact, their model is the basis for the $1 billion proposals which President Obama offered the Congress to help fund a nationwide network of research institutes (see more here).
The scope of this institute now goes beyond Germany: It has offices and research units located in places like Jakarta, Indonesia to San Jose, CA. Obama’s plan envisions at least 15 institutes like Fraunhofer, including one in Youngstown, Ohio, focused on 3-D printing.
Why they are so good (1): Fraunhofer is practical
The institute researches everything from data algorithms to life sciences. But they have one big filter for selecting their projects: Their new initiatives should be short-term with immediate business applications/value. This practical approach works very well for them: The institute is making in excess of $160 million a year only on patent licensing.
Why they are so good (2): Fraunhofer connects!
Oftentimes, amazing innovative solutions are developed in the crowd of small companies and research teams out there. A great capability of Fraunhofer is to identify and connect such members of the crowd to the places they are needed.
A good example is Jena, a city in Germany where the institute has established a center. The Jena region has been traditionally good in the science of optics and is home to an innovation cluster dating back centuries. Mahr GmbH, a maker of precision measurement instruments, used Fraunhofer Institute to connect to the technology developers in Jena and developed a device that can quickly measure objects in 3-D. Mahr has bought the licensing rights since 2012, and the product has become part of the company’s portfolio.
In the future, I would like to see our team at Ennomotive to play a similar role in terms of helping companies formulate their operational problems and find the right crowd: By pulling off this idea, everybody wins!