An idea-generation program launched in January 2004 gave C.R. Bard Inc. a new product within nine months, and has led to 150 other products that are in various stages of development toward commercial application. Although just 20 months old, the program has generated more than 1,000 new ideas for the company, and nearly one-third of those are being considered as potential marketable concepts.
The program includes what amounts to a public invitation via the company's Web site for anyone to submit ideas, and a process to evaluate and develop the concepts and to turn them into products that can be manufactured.
Additionally, the program includes consideration for the person making the suggestion: He usually knows within 30 days if the idea has merit because the company reports back to him and, for good ideas, develops some sort of monetary award. "This started as a move to take the mystery out of the ways to give the company ideas for new products and processes," says John A. DeFord. DeFord is vice president for science and technology for the Murray Hill, N.J.-based company. C. R. Bard develops, manufactures and markets medical technologies in vascular, urologic, oncologic and surgical applications. Its customers include hospitals, individual health-care professionals, extended-care facilities and alternate health-care sites worldwide.
C.R. Bard wanted to find ways to promote new ideas for products and processes, and to ensure that the persons who offered them knew their ideas were being taken seriously.
It came up with "Idea Generation Process," (IGP), a simple name for a program that, within a year, quadrupled the number of ideas the company received. To establish the IGP, C.R. Bard outlined seven stages required to make a concept commercially viable, and established multidisciplinary teams at each of its divisions, at its headquarters and at its R&D facility.
The eight teams oversee the evaluation and screening of ideas that are submitted, conduct business analysis for concepts, and track the development, testing, clinical validation and commercialization of new products.
The teams typically have five permanent members, including the director of business development at each business unit, who usually serves as the team leader, a person from R&D, and representatives from each unit's quality, regulatory and manufacturing operations. Representatives from other disciplines within the divisions or from corporate R&D or headquarters are called in as needed. The teams meet about twice each month, DeFord says.
The teams also are responsible for providing the fast responses to the people who submit ideas. The rapid reaction is designed to encourage people to provide additional ideas in the future, DeFord says. Although open to the general public, most of the ideas come from the company's employees and customers.
"Inventive people often have multiple ideas. Not every idea works. It could take seven or eight ideas for us to find one that is really a good fit," he says. The product that was identified and commercialized within nine months was one "good fit."
The suggestion was for the development of a dual-purpose catheter that could be used as an all-purpose access to a patient's arterial system and for the relatively high-pressure injection of contrasting media that are needed for x-ray and CT scans. Previously, patients who were catheterized with an all-purpose arterial catheter would also need a high-pressure catheter if they were going for an x-ray or CT scan.
C.R. Bard already made all-purpose catheters, and put the suggestion through its Idea Generation Process. It introduced the trade-named "PowerPICC" (the last part of the name is an acronym for Peripherally Inserted Central-venous Catheter) in the autumn of 2004. As part of the IGP, the company applied for and received appropriate regulatory agency approval around the world, and the product was launched.
The PowerPICC product, a modification of one of the company's existing products, moved through C.R. Bard's IGP and through regulatory approvals more quickly than usual, but it would not be on the market without the streamlined suggestion system. Besides the 150 concepts that are under active development, DeFord says there are an additional 300 ideas that have advanced beyond the program's initial evaluation stage that could become marketable products within the next year or two.
DeFord notes that the company also is working on ideas submitted internally that recommend manufacturing, safety and quality improvements. Because of the company's rapid growth, DeFord says C.R. Bard's R&D operations have grown at a very fast pace, and the IGP has provided multifaceted support.
"This gives our R&D team and our sales team an opportunity to evaluate ideas, and gives our employees and customers a place to take their ideas," DeFord says. And, while ensuring the person with the idea gets feedback, it gives the company and each of its divisions a standard way to evaluate, track and move good ideas forward.