Encouraging Inventions

Businessman looking at Innovation plan.

Technological innovation is the new normal — and maybe not that new. When Indramat came out with the first brushless AC servo motors in the second half of the 20th century, they paved the way for large scale industrial automation.

But are we still encouraging invention?

Insisting on a clear ROI before investing in R&D doesn’t encourage invention. If social media had been forced to show monetization potential before it got investment, we wouldn’t have Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Who knows what new ideas in motion control have been lost before they were ever found? Many of the newest ideas end up powering games, not factories, because there is an emphasis on creativity in that field, and a higher tolerance for failure.

We might need to go further back, too. An emphasis on test-taking rather than creativity in schools, combined with a poor record on STEM instruction, has left the U.S. with a dearth of engineers, especially in manufacturing. Manufacturing needs to get back to the cool kids’ table.

Manufacturing also needs to collaborate better with educators. Rexroth is leading the way here, bringing European attitudes toward apprenticeship back to the U.S. But stronger connections between industry and schools at all levels can make a difference.

There are plenty of theories about ways that government regulations can encourage innovation: relax copyright and patent laws, tighten copyright and patent laws; give tax breaks and stimulus funds for innovative companies, stay out of industry; relax the labor market, structure training and paths into the workforce.

It’s safe to say that there is no consensus on the question.

But the U.S. is not always a powerhouse of innovation. Recent research suggests that U.S. workers are on average more productive — but less creative — than their European counterparts. Focus in motion control in the U.S. (apart from games) has recently been on safety, sustainability, and cost-effectiveness. All good things, no doubt, but also all about tweaking what already exists, not about creating new things.

Does your work environment encourage and reward new ideas? Something to think about!

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