“Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” That famous quote from serial inventor Thomas Edison is in many ways as applicable to product development today as when it was first uttered over 100 years ago.
Edison, the holder of more than a thousand U.S. patents, including the light bulb, the phonograph and the movie camera, knew something about innovation – and frankly, the “perspiration” that goes with it. Here’s how the Edison Museum describes his development team’s efforts to come up with a light bulb that would last for more than 40 hours:
“Edison and his assistants tested more than 6,000 plant materials as possible contenders for light bulb elements. Ultimately, carbonized bamboo proved the right choice because when cut to the proper dimensions and carbonized, it incandesced for more than 1,200 hours when electrified. Bamboo also became a ‘convenient’ choice at this particular point in the experimentation timeline. The use of bamboo helped Edison bypass some lawsuits involving other inventors who had developed the same procedure using carbonized thread.”
We don’t hear much about those first 6,000 tries before Edison got his light bulb right.
As is often the case with innovation, the success of the final product obscures all the hard work behind it. It’s a pattern that surfaces repeatedly in product design. For example, Inc. Magazine notes that it took James Dyson, acclaimed inventor and eponymous founder of Dyson vacuums, 5,127 tries to create a bagless vacuum. In a similar test of perseverance, it took the creators of the Ziploc bag 17 years to perfect their design before bringing it to market. The bottom line? In the vast majority of cases, innovation is almost 100 percent sweat.
Fortunately, in contrast to the challenges Edison and his successors have faced through the years, modern product developers have access to cloud productivity tools that reduce the “sweat” required to bring an inspired idea to life.
Today’s engineers are challenged not only to develop design solutions to complex problems, but also need to align their ideas with an array of internal stakeholders and approvers. In the all-important collaboration sphere, modern product development solutions – such as PTC’s cloud-based Onshape CAD and data management platform – reduce the unnecessary friction that often occurs with traditional file-based design tools. Using a cloud Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platform, designers and engineers can instantly share designs and updates with critical collaborators including marketing, sales, QA, manufacturing and outside vendors.
Onshape eliminates the version control headaches and administrative hassles of copying and sending design files back and forth by email. The platform’s simultaneous editing functionality enables multiple designers and engineers to work together in real time – regardless of location and on any device (including iPads, tablet and phones - iOS and Android). With Onshape, everyone is always working on the same software version – the latest one – and there is always only “one source of truth” for the design.
Innovation Requires Robust Collaboration
The Stirling Ultracold Freezer used to store COVID-19 vaccines operates at minus 80-degrees Celsius. The company’s product development team relies on Onshape for its real-time collaboration tools.
Innovation, of course, also requires trying to do things that no one else is doing. Taking creative risks.
A stellar example of this is Ohio-based Stirling Ultracold, a manufacturer of ultra low-temperature (ULT) freezers that have become absolutely essential for storing and transporting the COVID-19 vaccines as they are rolled out across the United States and around the world.
Founder and CTO Dave Berchowitz couldn’t have possibly imagined the current severity of the pandemic – and the urgent mass-scale need for specialty refrigeration – when he first came up with the idea of putting the Stirling engine (a 200-year-old technology) into a freezer. Stirling Ultracold CEO Neill Lane recently explained the backstory to The Columbus Dispatch:
“The name Stirling is a reference to Robert Stirling, a Scottish minister who invented the Stirling engine in 1816. The Stirling machine always promised very high efficiency both as a refrigeration machine and an engine producing power, but that promise was never really realized in those 200 years. What David and the team at Global Cooling (Stirling Ultracold’s parent company) did was figure out how to get the efficiencies of the Stirling machines with a different kind of mechanical arrangement. People tend to think of Stirling machines as having a crank and something that rotates. Our machine’s not like that. It’s linear. The moving parts bounce back and forth in their steel cylinder. So it was a real innovation, taking the promise of the Stirling in terms of efficiency but delivering it in a mechanical arrangement that actually works reliably.”
The company’s ULT freezers are sold to life science, pharmaceutical, biotechnology, academic and clinical research customers around the world. Stirling recently partnered with UPS Healthcare to supply portable freezers to store vaccines at temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees to minus 80 degrees Celsius (minus 4 degrees to minus 112 degrees Fahrenheit).
Berchowitz, a strong advocate for using cloud-based business tools, credits Onshape for helping his core design team collaborate more efficiently with a broad array of partners and suppliers spread between multiple locations:
"Onshape’s unique responsive structure allows mechanical designers, supply chain managers, process and quality people to work together on a single document in real time,” he says. “Interteam communication no longer requires heavy email collaboration because the work site is available to all with an intuitive and familiar layout. The release mechanism for document control is robust, unambiguous and simple, resulting in a more productive Stirling team."
The Product Innovation Imperative
Interested in learning more about how cloud productivity tools are enabling better teamwork and product innovation?
The Product Innovation Imperative is Onshape’s new guide for engineering and manufacturing leaders to pressure test their own organizations to identify areas of improvement. In this eBook, you’ll explore the following business-critical topics:
- How manufacturing companies are responding to the “New Normal” of remote work and challenges posed by the global COVID-19 pandemic
- Why product development teams are now aggressively adopting digital and cloud productivity tools for sustainable advantage
- How earlier team communication and collaboration impacts product innovation
- How market dominance can quickly erode if innovation becomes an afterthought
- How a cloud-native Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) product development platform differs from legacy, on-premise CAD and product data management systems
The end of each chapter includes a checklist of “Essential Questions for Your Product Development Team” to assist you in re-evaluating your current innovation strategies and formulating new ones.
Get your free copy of The Product Innovation Imperative today!