The competitive market demands continuous quality enhancement and cost reduction. On the other hand, we have to pay more for labor, natural resources, and other inputs. Furthermore, a negative effect on the environment should keep falling. How to address this adverse situation? Ideas play a vital role. But how do we get ideas? We cannot rely on unpredictable creative sparks in the minds of genius. Rather, we should have a professional, scalable approach to keep incrementally making the advancement. Fortunately, the focus for a redesign for ideas for incremental innovation offers the window to keep producing ideas. These ideas should be used to redesign both products and processes to produce them. The continued progress of underlying technology cores and our understanding keeps opening the window of producing and leveraging these ideas. Hence, firms should have a very well institutional capacity for consistently implementing a redesign strategy for innovating and manufacturing.
Often, incremental progression is vital for sustaining innovation in the market. The redesign strategy offers an essential capacity for consistent incremental progress. Ideas for redesigning focus on both leveraging the externality effect and countering the competition response. Redesign strategy is at the core of making innovation successful in the competitive market. There are more than a dozen redesign options for generating ideas for incremental advancement. However, at the core of the redesign strategy is design thinking.
Design thinking for redesign ideas for incremental innovation
We should practice redesign by leveraging the design thinking approach as much as possible. Design economics seriously depends on customer preferences, which often creates uncertainty in making design decisions. To overcome customer preferences’ uncertainty, the various stages of design thinking should be understood as different modes, which contribute to the entire redesign process. The ultimate goal throughout is to derive as deep an understanding of the product and its users as possible. Here is a 5-stage iterative process of design thinking proposed by Stanford University’s d.School. It begins with Empathy—researching your users’ needs. It’s followed by stating users’ needs and problems. The next step is to Ideate—challenge assumptions and create ideas. Upon getting ideas, we proceed to Prototype—start to create solutions. The final step is Test—try your solutions out.
The value proposition for redesign ideas for incremental innovation
At each iteration of the redesign, the purpose is to improve the quality and reduce the cost incrementally. Such redesign exercise could be part of sustaining as well as efficiency (or process) innovation strategy. In the language of Dr. Jim Collins, making a Good product Great could be a journey of incremental innovation. The progress is through a series of stepwise improvements. The redesign also offers tools to foster an organization’s ability to systematically create and capture “blue oceans”— offering value innovation through the simultaneous pursuit of differentiation and low cost. The redesigning exercise aids in eliminating the trade-off between differentiation and low cost within a company. For sustaining a product in a competitive market economy, this redesign capability is vital for meeting the demand of successive better versions, preferable at a lower cost. Some of the redesign strategic options are explained below.
Replace mechanical parts with electronics
Mechanical parts have many limitations, which could be addressed with electronic ones. For example, usually, mechanical parts require large space and also consume more energy than electronic parts. They affect many economic parameters starting from cost, quality, and scale advantage. To take advantage of it, over the last 70 years, more or less all-major industrial products have been going through the process of replacement of mechanical ones by electronic components. Starting from a TV tuner, the keyboard of a mobile phone handset to the speed regulator of an electric fan, there have been countless examples.
One of the examples has been replacing mechanical relays with photo relays. Relays are essential in designs where a high current is needed to power a certain part of a design. The dilemma could be in choosing the type of relay: contact relays (mechanical) or contactless relays (semiconductors). Often contactless relays are photo relays, as they are activated with LED. As opposed to mechanical switch in contact relays, photo relays change the state of the switch through LED’s light that drives the MOSFET gate.
Reduce the number of parts: a key area for generating redesign ideas for incremental innovation
The reduction of component count has multidimensional benefits. On the one hand, it reduces space and assembling costs. On the other hand, it also reduces space requirements and energy needs. The major redesign efforts of electronics products have focused on integrating multiple discrete components into a single one. Such redesign progress has been making many gadgets like mobile handsets and appliances like TVs more capable, and more importantly, lighter as well as cheaper. The integration of discrete electronic components into a single chip has been the driver of the improvement of virtually all electronic products. The repeated application of this design option has resulted in LSI and VLSI chips. Replacing a printed circuit board (PCB) full of discrete parts with an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) has always been an excellent way to reduce system size and production costs.
Replace the role of hardware components with software
Once the hardware components’ roles are replaced with software, the cost of making each copy of the software application to replicate the product is virtually zero. Moreover, as the software component does not wear or tear, the product’s reliability does not suffer from the aging of software components. The cost of developing software to replace mechanical or electronic components is often high, but once developed, due to high scale advantage, eventual cost per unit will likely be lower, provided a sufficient number of the product is produced. Moreover, the software also offers a scope advantage; once the core asset is developed, the marginal cost of developing each component decreases substantially.
The availability of low-cost microcontrollers, sensors, and displays has opened a significant opportunity for pursuing this redesign strategy. For this reason, the density of software in major industrial products starting from automobiles to microwave ovens has been increasing. Among many benefits, both the assembling and recycling cost of software is zero.
Delegate roles from human to machine, in both using and making
Human beings have a never-ending desire to reduce involvement in using industrial products. For this reason, redesigning products with a reduced human role in operating them increases the utility. Often, such progress also reduces the cost, both producing and operating as well. For example, the redesign of the TV with remote control features has reduced the human role in operating TVs, increasing the perceived utility and the cost. Similarly, the human role in operating other commonly used industrial products such as automobiles and washing machines is being continually reduced. Over the last 50 years, from adaptive cruise control to motor-driven window glass winding, several features are either being added or updated in automobiles to increase the perceived value. This trend has been continuing to develop autonomous driving capacity.
In order to reduce the human role while increasing the perceived utility, contemporary design thinking plays a vital role in redesigning products. Re-framing the human-machine interface in human-centric ways appears to be extremely useful in reducing the human role while increasing its utility. Design Thinking methods in redesigning products will reduce the human role and increase perceived utility simultaneously.
Redesign for reducing energy, space, and material need
Often high-energy consumption leads to higher wastage. Such wastage not only increases energy bills but also requires additional costs for air-conditioning. The redesign should focus on energy and material need to make the product better and cheaper. Such a redesign effort will also make the product compact. The use of efficient components as a replacement for existing ones could be an option. For example, replacing fluorescent or incandescent lamps with LED bulbs within cars, refrigerators, or light fixtures will lower energy costs.
Redesign ideas for incremental innovation do not demand the creative spark of genius. Often systematic approaches to technology monitoring, forecasting, and idea generation appear to be sufficient. But its implication of sustaining the innovation and expanding the market is enormous. Often such a vital opportunity, as well as necessity, is overlooked in profiting from ideas. Hence, we should have a focused strategy for leveraging redesign ideas for incremental innovation.