Culture and technology will eat your innovation strategy

By: Josh Ray and Alex Allison

Manufacturing continues to suffer from a lack of qualified workers despite the efforts of associations, businesses, educators and public organizations to attract more employees.

Hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs have gone unfilled each year in the United States since 2011, and Deloitte estimates that number will skyrocket as 2.7 million workers from the Great and Boomer generations retire through 2025. By then, researchers project 3.4 million new manufacturing workers could be needed.

This crisis is happening during a critical time for many manufacturers, as Industry 4.0 technologies disrupt processes and open new revenue opportunities from product design to service fulfillment. It’s a digital transformation that not all manufacturers have fully embraced, often for reasons that make good business sense in the short term.

What these companies don’t realize is that they’re setting themselves up for double the setbacks. First, they will fall behind in general as competitors pull ahead on efficiency, quality and innovation through technology investment. Second, they will continue to scramble to competitively secure top talent.

What next-gen workers want from technology

Next-generation employees demand modern applications that work as seamlessly and intuitively as consumer applications. They also expect technology to enable widespread collaboration, ongoing learning and new discovery or betterment of the status quo.

That is, they expect an innovative culture.

According to a Deloitte and Council on Competitiveness multiyear study, key attributes of an innovative company include:

Thinking like a venture capitalist to adopt a risk-tolerant portfolio approach; being open to disruptive ideas, such as crowdsourcing; allowing people to try new things without punishing them for failure.

To provide this environment, it’s important to have technology in place that facilitates a rapid-yet-stable testing and learning environment. Digital twins make this possible because simulation of products, machines and processes can happen in a low-risk, digital environment.

Operating outside of traditional walls to take advantage of collaboration opportunities across the innovation ecosystem.

Technology is disrupting supply chains, as well as process and product, and there will be new opportunities for partner collaboration. To facilitate this collaboration, manufacturers must be able to seamlessly share files and concurrently iterate with new partners. They’ll need to invest in technology that integrates real-time data and workflow transactions for everyone who touches a part of the product lifecycle.

Understanding there is no singular solution. Every manufacturer will have a unique path.

This is why technology needs to be integrated, flexible and configurable, as well as scalable for when needs change.

Change is non-negotiable for success

These attributes can be uncomfortable for manufacturing companies that are traditionally risk-averse and like to follow rather than lead when it comes to change. But operating as an innovative organization that keeps pace with change is critical for manufacturing success today and in the future.

Think about once-dominant brands that didn’t move swiftly enough in response to market disruption and digitalization, and how they’ve suffered or are suffering for it. There are numerous examples across the manufacturing world, including photography, office equipment and printing press companies.

The good news is that innovation is not out of reach for manufacturers. In fact, manufacturers comprise more than half of the Forbes Top 10 most innovative companies in the world — including three pharma/bio/life sciences companies, one materials company, one consumer products company and one auto company.

Among Forbes’ list of innovators is Keurig Green Mountain, which started out disrupting the coffee industry by designing and manufacturing a new type of coffee maker and now is set to disrupt soda stalwarts like Coke and Pepsi. Keurig is developing a consumer appliance to make cold beverages and recently acquired Dr. Pepper Snapple Group to solidify its new direction and strategy.

Keurig shows that manufacturers don’t have to be high-tech producers to be innovative. Coffee and soda are not new, but the company has still managed to innovate around them.

Simplifying complexity to make room for innovation

Like Keurig’s consumer electronics, all products are becoming more complex as digital capabilities are integrated with electrical and mechanical systems. This trend, called mechatronics, is another area where the right level of technology investment is crucial to attracting skilled talent.

Mechatronics-enabled products and processes are breaking new ground in manufacturing all the time and require highly integrated data and systems to design, produce and service. No one wants to work in an environment where they can’t find important data, where mistakes are made because information hand-off is manual and where collaboration is limited because software programs can’t talk to one another. This isn’t an innovative culture.

By not having the best-possible software to embed efficient mechatronics development, not only are manufacturers falling behind on the technology curve, but they could also be scaring off the very people who are poised to excel in mechatronics innovation.

Manufacturing needs to move away from silo-specific solutions toward integrated platforms that enable concurrent collaboration and total digitalization of processes.

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Get the technology right to build tomorrow’s workforce

Manufacturers have two urgent reasons to make sure they keep up on technology investment.

First, ongoing technology upgrades are essential for building an innovative culture.

Second, having an innovative culture is a necessity for building a stable and talented workforce that can carry success into the future.

These two needs can’t be separated: each is essential for the other.

All of the events, public-private partnerships and research reports attempting to draw more people to manufacturing jobs are still important and valuable, but manufacturers themselves also have some work to do to find the top talent they need. They need to look at their culture, their technology and their knowledge of what has changed in terms of employee expectations.

It’s an exciting time to be part of manufacturing, as digitalization continues to revolutionize how all products are designed, produced and used.

All that’s needed are workplaces that are as innovative as their products.

This concludes our series on the future of manufacturing. 

About the authors
Josh Ray is an account development executive for Siemens PLM Software. He began his career in the manufacturing software organization. Josh is passionate about people and technology, and his current role is to support business development in the industrial machinery and medical device industries. Josh works with companies to increase awareness and adoption of technologies across their innovation and product lifecycle. He regularly engages with C-level executives in this role, which inspires his drive to gain a deeper understanding of industry trends and the obstacles companies currently face.

Alex Allison is an account orchestrator with Siemens PLM Software and has been with the company since 2013. In his current role, he is responsible for maintaining relationships with electronics and high-tech companies on the Eastern seaboard. Alex began his career in the semiconductor industry, specializing in manufacturing systems. He has experience around OCM, managing complex enterprise system architecture, and ensuring customers have the right solutions and processes that will result in transformational efficiencies throughout their business.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at