Daniel L. Twarog
President
North American Die Casting
Association
Wheeling, Ill.

A recent article in Business Week addressed what it called the new "Creativity Economy," which, research suggests, is eclipsing the high-tech, software-driven "Knowledge Economy." In fact, the magazine launched a new online "Innovation and Design" portal as a forum for research and discussion on the Creativity Economy. Clearly, something is going on when GE, Procter & Gamble, and Business Week, among others, urge business people to learn all about these topics.

North American die casters have seen the impact of innovation from many angles. As manufacturing bellwethers, the industry watched global interests overtake the auto industry and other major manufacturing. We learned the hard way the impact of maintaining the status quo.

In response, leaders of our industry began to embrace innovation as key to our future. In fact, our annual Design Competition showcases how die casters use innovation and creativity in their designs to improve an OEM's final product.

Although many view die casting as an old-line industry, the drive for innovation is no less important there than it is in hightech or consumer markets. If anything, it may be more important because innovative ideas create value and remove the stigma of commodity pricing, which is a major concern for many die casters.

Of course, many people consider it a big leap from saying you want to innovate to actually doing it. Aren't the innovators among us simply born this way? Not necessarily. Innovation is actually a skill set that can be taught and learned. So how do we get the creative juices flowing and learn how to be innovative? Here are some tips from design strategists:

  • Innovators are observant and curious. They ask what situations or possibilities need to be addressed, and then make changes.
  • Listen to and respond to customers. A successful designer knows how to connect with customers' needs and emotions, especially the unmet, unarticulated needs. Who knew people wanted to take pictures with their cell phones?
  • Provide employee incentives that encourage creativity.
  • Educate each other on the specifics of manufacturing. For example, attend a seminar on die-casting design to better understand the process.
  • Meet potential customers and manufacturers face to face. Nothing beats personal interaction.
  • Explore new markets, product areas, and industries.
  • Be proactive: Learn to work together with industry toward being aggressive and on the cutting edge. Think long term.

More industry-specific examples of how to innovate are in NADCA's recently distributed White Paper on Collaborative Engineering.

Change can be unsettling. But our industry has already seen the negative effects of standing still. Ultimately, innovation improves everyone's bottom line, which is why it should be embraced, not feared.

The North American Die Casting Association (www.diecasting.org) is a trade group representing the die-casting industry.