I was fortunate to be part of an event that focused on pharmaceutical packaging and how 3d printing fits into this expanding area of medical markets.   Great stuff was shared by the presenters including how changes in the medical markets are coming about.

One of the presenters was Nicolas Webb – a world re-owned “innovation evangelist” with special expertise in healthcare and consumer products.  He had insights about how the customer perception of the digital information from our firms impacts how we are perceived in terms of quality, reputation, willingness to listen and then finally the buying experience. One of the concepts that he outlined this morning was the innovation mindset.  Or rather how we say innovation and then start to try and bend innovation to our comfort level.

An example he used was walking thru the MD&M conference in California this year, and seeing that almost to a fault exhibitors had in their logos and tag lines on their booth “innovative.”  Every single one of the exhibitors had innovative or innovate or innovator in their branding and presentation to the attendees.   Now while that doesn’t sound as if there was a disconnect on using this word so extensively, he noted  a reality check between what could be considered an innovative and a firm’s standard practice of being risk averse.  And I saw where 3D printing fits into the whole equation of innovation and risk for manufacturing.  Let me explain a bit.

Nicolas Webb notes that innovation comes from the willingness to take risk and fail.  Not just little failures, but sometimes great big failures.  He cited the experience of Apple with their Newton device.  For those that don’t remember, the Newton was the precursor to PDAs (who has one of those now?) and today’s smartphones.  I had forgotten about the Newton, and how it came and went before I could work up enough dough to get one after I couldn’t figure out a good return on my investment of replacing my $3 notepad with a $700 device.   In fact, the MessagePad 2000, which was the 2nd generation of the Newton, was pulled from the market after less than a year.  Alas, the device would be the butt of many jokes at that time, including a whole week of Doonesbury cartoons that showcased shortcomings in the handwriting recognition software which was supposed to be a main selling point.  So I did a little digging to learn why Apple was cited as being a successful innovator versus many other firms that didn’t make the leap.

Apple, despite hauling the Newton unceremoniously off to a technology graveyard, didn’t hesitate to do more products.  Apple adopted many of the lessons learned from the device and from the customer experience.  The ex-Apple Newton developers founded Pixo, the company that created the operating system for the original iPod.  Design concepts later carried over into the iPod of being able to fit into a pocket as well as have the fingers curl around it (to keep it secure whether the hand was turned over) made the iPod an instant sensation.

But what about those firms that weren’t so willing to take the innovation risks?  One of the best examples was Kodak.   In the mid-1970s when Kodak first developed digital technology, they had a 90% market share of photographic film sales in the United States. Afraid of cannibalizing their own strong hold on the film business, they were hesitant to take advantage of their innovative technology. Others such as Nikon, Sony and Canon jumped in to fill the expanding niche.  (source – Artic apples.com   “Being innovation-friendly: The risks of risk aversion”)

So how does 3D printing fit into wanting to be innovation friendly but risk averse?  A 3D printing of the design helps control and mitigates failures before production introduction to the market.  For instance – if a customer is developing a new pack for a pharmaceutical customer, the steps to go thru getting that blister pack made are many and people involved are almost a large crowd.  Going from the designer to the engineer to the manufacturing with marketing, supply chain, material scientist and financials, the room gets pretty crowded when you have a meeting regarding the product.  Plus the varying comfort with using electronic CAD data and visualizing a product and how it handles is different for the different parties.  And communication and agreements means that collaboration has to take place, agreement has to be reached, and plans of action have to be agreed upon.  The money risk is real.  Design affects material selection and material selection will affect tool design and manufacturing.  Proof of concept and design validation is essential to prevent change in the tool and delays.  So how does one assure good and common language on what is going to work on the design and what could be a problem?  You really need a physical model.

Just as we say a picture is worth a thousand words, we find that a model is worth a thousand pictures.  A physical model allows the collaboration of all parties on what could be problems as well as what really works well.  Packaging can be designed and prototyped with different models being produced in a matter of hours.   Prototype tooling can be used that gives you an injection molding, blow molding, vac forming or compression molding tool in a matter of hours.  Small changes can be incorporated before the time and expense of production tooling.  Customization such as log inserts and custom inserts into a tool can be done.  And, the bottom line, the profit is maximized from the validation and collaboration because you save time and money.  By reducing time to market for a new product, you can increase profit.  The impact is significant since being late on new product by 6 months can reduce profits over 66%.   (source – McKinsey Associates

So overall – 3D printing allows one to evaluate design, communicate effectively, minimize risk and collaborate and approve so you can get product to market quickly.  Doing all that by using the technology sounds like innovation is in the house and that you have helped manage the risk.

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