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Managing Innovation: Five Considerations for Manufacturing Leaders

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The pace of innovation in mobility manufacturing is accelerating, and the European automotive market is well placed to capitalise.

Driven by a tailwind that includes coordinated government action to reduce the numbers of carbon-emitting vehicles (as enshrined in the Paris Agreement), rapidly diminishing costs in the production of lithium batteries and well-established cross-continent supply chains, Europe has all the ingredients to be a global leader in this vibrant industry.

The Austrian market promises to be a major weight contributing to this imminent tipping point. For more than a century we have had a thriving market manufacturing everything from individual automotive parts through to full vehicle production. To be at the forefront of the industry’s next wave, Austrian manufacturers are seeking production models that facilitate greater productivity, flexibility and growth.

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Scouting Innovation

Our company, Magna, is helping to support Europe’s competitiveness in vehicle and systems manufacturing. As a global organisation, covering 27 countries, 346 manufacturing locations and 165,000 employees, we have a broad perspective of how the mobility industry is evolving and where it’s going next.

In our role, leading project and strategy for smart factory innovation, we see this evolution from the frontline. We work across the organisation to align emerging needs with the latest, most innovative solutions on the market. In a regular day, we are exposed to several advances that could help transform everything our company does from quality inspection and predictive maintenance, through to better data analytics and collaborative XR. Based on our team’s research, testing and feasibility studies, we then filter down from a variety of possible solutions to focus on those that are most practical.

From this process we  have gained great insight into how manufacturing companies can make modernisation a smooth process and, indeed, avoid many of the potential pitfalls that can derail the innovation process. Based on our experiences, here are five strategic considerations leaders should be making when approaching innovation:

  1. Start with the problem, not the solution: Identify areas for improvement and then test the maturity of available solutions to deliver on those needs. Some technologies may take several iterations before they’re production-ready, so don’t jump the gun in implementing solutions that don’t serve your immediate needs.

  2. Involve those on the front-line: Encourage communication and information exchange, including mind-setting on what change involves for those on the shop floor. Use test lines and off-sites to smooth implementation. The aim should be to make change practical and widely embraced by employees. This is best achieved by understanding concerns or practical obstacles.

  3. Think holistically: One technology in isolation may fix a problem, but joining it up with other technologies and considering the entire lifecycle can make sure it produces ongoing value and doesn’t risk two speeds of innovation. Your roadmap should therefore be geared towards enhancing integration.

  4. Embrace creativity: Don’t be afraid to create a bold vision that your organisation can work towards. Ambition attracts enthusiasm, which increases the likelihood of innovations reaching a successful conclusion.

  5. Build a community: Create a network of other corporations, academics and service providers to help you scout for the latest technology. Having the broadest possible viewpoint on the next major advances will help you to get there before competitors. Our organisation has benefitted from working with Rockwell Automation, one of our partners which has played an important role in supporting us to identify areas for improvement and test solutions to find which best meet our criteria.


Setting Priorities

Modernisation is a collaborative endeavour. As an industrial leader you have the ability to foster that collaboration and drive your organisation towards change. Not everything that can be modernised necessarily should be – at least not right now. The key is to understand where the greatest opportunities lie and to double-down where you’ll see the biggest improvements.

By gaining an understanding of your current processes, what they’re designed to achieve and where technology can actually enhance them to increase productivity and improve quality, you’ll be well placed to capitalise on the opportunities that exist in a fast-moving market.

Franz Weghofer
Franz Weghofer
Project Lead Smart Factory, Magna Steyr

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