Industryweek 5356 Grand Challenge

The Transformative Power of the Grand Challenge

Oct. 3, 2013
Grand Challenges search for solutions from unrelated industries and from scientists and inventors who aren’t embedded in manufacturing and who can look at a problem or technology need from a different angle.

Over the past decade, the Grand Challenge has become the golden-haired child of innovation.

A Grand Challenge is a highly visible strategic program that invites the world’s best minds to apply their technical or scientific talent to a problem of world-wide significance facing mankind. It furthers the visibility, and the legacy of the organizations involved and makes a lasting impact on humanity.

Companies large and small use these well-planned and executed competitions to source ideas and solutions from outside their own four walls in order to create truly breakthrough products and services.

The Grand Challenge value proposition to manufacturing is even more compelling. It has the power to revitalize a sector that has been charged with being low-tech, commoditized and unimaginative by carving out a more innovation-driven role for itself in the global market place.

Manufacturers who see themselves as partners – not vendors – are helping customers achieve their own innovation goals by participating in Grand Challenges that marry their capabilities and know-how to solve new manufacturing problems, advance cross-industry capabilities, and make the previously impossible or impractical both possible and profitable – a win-win for both parties.

Suddenly, it’s no longer about who can get the job done fastest and for the lowest cost but who can quickly customize manufacturing processes that enable customers to create the products they envision and that their markets really want.

Grand Challenges search for solutions from unrelated industries and from scientists and inventors who aren’t embedded in manufacturing and who can look at a problem or technology need from a different angle. For example, in a recent challenge sponsored by GE (IW 500/6), which was looking for a 3-D digital printing solution, a clear majority of solver submissions came from outside GE’s established supplier community.

The Manufacturer's Grand Challenge

So how does a Grand Challenge work in the manufacturing space?

The first step is to identify the challenge. Everyone in manufacturing is aware of a specific issue that is holding the industry back and/or preventing them from delivering the answer that will enable a customer’s vision for the next generation of products. It could be a processing, equipment or technology limitation, a need to create a more environmentally friendly manufacturing alternative, the drive to make components lighter and processes faster –  the challenges are limitless.

The real issue, and it’s not just specific to manufacturing, is that it can be difficult to do what you’ve probably done for years in a new and different way.

The good news for the manufacturing sector is that Grand Challenges create a unique opportunity for solvers to create something real and tangible. They’re not just submitting a formula or an algorithm but a solution that ultimately will be integrated into a product that can be manufactured.

The rewards for Manufacturing Grand Challenges offer solvers significant incentives. The prize money can range from thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. And often the customer is seeking a long term partner to manufacture the solution, resulting in business contracts of limitless value. How much that prize money needs to be in order to attract attention and inspire solver engagement is often pegged to the potential market value of the commercialized solution.

Grand Challenges have the potential to refresh manufacturing’s image and reposition the industry, not to mention the sponsoring company, as innovation-driven. That’s why an integral and critical component of a successful Grand Challenge strategy is publicity. Not only because it’s important to get the word out to potential solvers all over the world, but also because the Grand Challenge as an initiative makes for great ink.  

Every phase from the initial call for submissions to the judging and the announcement of the winners represents an opportunity to garner widespread interest and attention to the manufacturing industry and sponsoring manufacturer. Keeping the Grand Challenge in the news and sharing progress reports also strengthens the sponsor’s relationship with the solver community and helps the whole industry thrive.

Denys Resnick is vice president, Strategic Programs with NineSigma, an innovation partner to companies worldwide.

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