GE engineers, for example, have been trying to gather data from machines faster for years. One particularly ripe area for data compression is inspection. Before machine parts leave a factory, workers often run them through heavy-duty computed tomography scanners. These machines are much more powerful than the machines working in hospitals, and GE uses them to search for internal flaws. The data files these machines generate are gigantic, approaching 80 gigabytes, the equivalent of some 40 feature movies streamed from Netflix. Since they have to travel to multiple inspectors, processing the information can take hours.
The problem was so important that GE turned to the public to crowdsource a solution. In less than eight weeks, an online community powered by the company’s crowdsourcing platform called Fuse generated 40 entries. GE inspection experts then identified three prizewinners, two from India and one from Virginia. “Now our technical team is working to implement these solutions,” says Amelia Gandara, a Fuse “community leader.” The winners of the compression challenge will receive a stipend and an opportunity to work with GE engineers on implementing their designs.
GE launched Fuse as an open crowdsourcing platform connected to a network of “microfactories” capable of rapid design and prototyping in 2016. The platform is part of GE’s GeniusLink — a team that works with experts inside and outside of GE to find more efficient ways to do business. With Fuse, GeniusLink has created a new forum where people from all over the world can participate in a multitude of technical challenges.
So far, Gandara’s team has been trying to figure out a better way to inspect parts for jet engines, welds in steam pipes and other components. But the tasks may expand in the future. “We’re asking the public to collaborate with the GE team to develop new products and technologies,” says GeniusLink Director and Fuse President Dyan Finkhousen. Finkhousen says the Fuse model uses the community to find, validate and refine new ideas and get products to market more quickly. “It takes months rather than years,” she says.
For challenges seeking results more tangible than an algorithm, prizewinners can travel to GE’s new microfactory in Chicago located at mHUB to work on a prototype. mHUB took over a former Motorola warehouse in downtown Chicago that’s been converted into part co-working site, part shop floor where engineers can work with wood, metal, 3D printers and various electronics. “It’s all about flexible thinking,” says Axel Grippo, general manager of Fuse Oil & Gas, a unit of Fuse focusing on energy. “The site is starting with a set of equipment that should suffice to work on prototypes, but the challenges will change so we’ll adapt down the road.”
Fuse also hosts a virtual maker space at fuse.ge.com where engineers, students and innovators can brainstorm together to come up with new project ideas, discuss industry problems and tap into the collective wisdom of experts around the world.
So far, more than 8,000 people from around the world have joined the Fuse community, and more than 1,200 people attended the mHUB and Fuse grand opening in March. GE just signed an agreement for the construction of two Fuse 3D-printing microfactories in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. Another microfactory focused on laser technologies is planned for Boston.
“This will be an ongoing robust business operation,” Finkhousen says. She says the reward potential is high for Fuse participants. Those with exceptional ideas might eventually have the opportunity to partner with GE, sign a licensing or supplier agreement or sell their technology to GE. “For us, it’s about matching great talent and great solutions with great need.”
Tom Stimac, who works as chief innovation manager at GE Lighting, has ideas of his own. He envisions a smart LED that changes brightness depending on your location in the home, or one that senses the weather and adjusts the light accordingly. “We are hoping to figure out how people want to interact with the various objects in their house and where the LED bulb fits into all that,” Stimac says.
Stimac is even thinking about LED lightbulbs doing more than just generating light. “Imagine your lightbulb as your surround-sound system, your smoke detector — even alerting you when the kids arrive home from school,” he says. “The possibilities are endless.”
GE wants the maker and hacker communities to come up with solutions for the home that combine LEDs with voice-command and sensor technology. The company will unveil the winners at the World Maker Faire in New York this October.
This newly invented LED will become an extension of the C by GE product family, which was just introduced at Lowe’s and Target.
LEDs have come a long way since GE engineer Nick Holonyak invented the first red-light LED in 1962 (see video above). Today a 60-watt-equivalent LED bulb sells at Sam’s Club for about $3 — a price that helped LED sales grow 250 percent last year.
LEDs now account for 15 percent of the 1.7 billion bulbs sold annually in the United States. Stimac, whose business makes LEDs that consumers can remotely control from their smartphones, expects that within 10 years, more than 50 percent of light sockets in the U.S. will use connected LEDs.
LED lamps employ solid-state parts that use electroluminescence from tiny light-emitting diodes. When electricity is applied to an LED, the bulb emits light from the interface between two different semiconducting materials. LEDs already illuminate everything from gas station signs to flat-screen TVs to iPad retina screens. With a 22-year life span, a single LED bulb can light a child’s bedroom desk lamp from birth through college graduation.
The shift to LEDs fits with GE’s broader digital transformation. In October, the company launched a new division, Current, powered by GE, which integrates its LED, solar, energy storage and electric vehicle businesses with the cloud-based Predix platform to identify and deliver cost-effective, efficient energy solutions for commercial, industrial and municipal customers.
The tiny device, she said, would soon replace passwords for logging on to mobiles. Although she explained that the tattoo was the work of a start-up (MC10 Inc.), what she left unsaid was that companies like Motorola can learn a lot from start-ups in the design of user interfaces.
Big companies tend to have infrastructure and processes built around established ways of conceptualising innovation and design — especially those that have brought them success over time. While this can give older companies an advantage over start-ups, which almost always have limited capital and infrastructure, it can also cause them to miss opportunities that start-ups may see more readily. An innovation such as bringing user interface design elements normally reserved for keyless automobile entry to mobile phones is just the kind of leap that is often more likely to come from a start-up like MC10 than from an established company like Motorola.
No wonder, then, that Dugan turned to a start-up for new ideas for Motorola. Many large, established companies have begun setting up and investing in start-ups through internal incubators and venture capital divisions as a way to capture that start-up mojo. Citibank, for example, has its own venture capital arm, Citi Ventures, for investing in start-ups that could eventually serve the larger organisation. To date, the division has invested in some 18 start-up companies, including mobile payment solution provider Square — in which it invested $200 million.
Crowd-sourcing the design of new products is another proven way for big companies to foster potentially valuable start-up-style thinking. GE is among the large companies soliciting design ideas from smaller companies and outside innovators. This year, the industrial giant entered into a joint venture, FirstBuild, with the much smaller crowd-sourced design and manufacturing firm Local Motors. FirstBuild acts as a technology incubator for GE, seeking ideas and designs from the crowd for next-generation home appliances that it can produce and market in small quantities. FirstBuild offers modest amounts to spark ideas from the crowd (up to $2,500 for an indoor grill design, for example), but the real prize is the potential for a product to take off in the marketplace and for GE to then produce it in large quantities with minimal risk.
Large companies are also turning to outside entities not just for new ideas, but for soup-to-nuts design, manufacturing and marketing strategies. New York City-based consultancy Fahrenheit 212 guides clients like Samsung, Coca-Cola and GE through the process of creating and bringing new products to market. Mark Payne, Fahrenheit 212 co-founder and head of idea development, explains in his forthcoming book, “How to Kill aUnicorn: How the World’s Hottest Innovation Factory Builds Bold Ideas that Make It to Market “(Crown Business, October 2014), that his company employs a two-pronged “money & magic” approach to innovation. “Money & Magic,” writes Payne, bring about “the collision of two power sources that have traditionally been kept apart—user-centered creativity and outcome-riven commercial grunt.”
For his big company clients, Payne further tells GE Look ahead, the magic of creating successful new products “starts by thinking more like a start-up.” Since start-ups tend to look at challenges and solutions differently from large organizations, says Payne, much of his and his colleagues’ work is geared towards helping their big clients see the world through different lenses.
Besides innovating at an ever-increasing pace to keep up with shortening product cycles, large, established companies have the additional challenge of managing mature businesses even as they foster the development of new ones. This requires them to adopt a three-horizon leadership style, according to Paul Nunes, the global managing director of the Accenture Institute for High Performance and co-author of “Big Bang Disruption:Strategy in the Age of Devastating Innovation” (Portfolio/Penguin, 2014). Leaders of large corporations today, he explains to GE Look ahead, “have to simultaneously manage a dying business, a stable business and an emerging business”.
One example is Kollmorgen, the 70-year-old, $500m-a-year division of Danaher Corporation that makes motors and actuators for food packaging and other industrial applications. The company continues to manufacture the motors and control systems that are the foundation of its success, but it is also rolling out innovative components designed for total immersion in cleaning agents in anticipation of more stringent hygiene practices. Meanwhile it continues to develop advanced technologies—such as the motors in Abiomed’s entirely self-contained artificial heart—that could eventually benefit its main product lines by helping them develop motors that are more reliable, require less maintenance and can operate in wet environments..
As for the electronic tattoos that Dugan showed off last year, they are now available from Silicon Valley start-up VivaLnk, which created them in partnership with Dugan’s team at Google. (The team remained with Google after Google sold Motorola to Lenovo in January 2014.) “We’d like to expand this to other devices and future versions of Android,” a Google spokesperson tells GE Look ahead, “but we don’t have anything to announce right now.”
Top Gif: Video courtesy of VivaLnk.
This piece first appeared in GE Look ahead.
But, don’t we hear of new ventures and new deals being made all the time? I personally haven’t taken the time to calculate all the funding transactions for new ventures over the past several years. However, there is another industry taking hold that might be the culprit as to why we are hearing about new businesses/ventures receiving funding, but that aren’t translating into these market statistics below (data from cbinsights.com).
Consider the worldwide fundraising phenomenon, called crowdfunding—where proof of concept is supported by the general masses instead of a few with deep pockets. Perhaps resources are being driven in new directions and by new channels? Case in point—the crowdfunding solution has helped people all over the world amass billions of dollars in funding for new endeavors. According to a recent industry report by Massolution, global crowdfunding raised nearly $2.7 billion for more than 1 million campaigns in 2012 alone. This means that the crowdfunding market grew by more than 80 percent from 2011. And it is just at the beginning of its growth cycle, unlike other types of capital raising techniques that seem to be dwindling or remaining flat.
Reasons for using crowdfunding for raising capital are vast, yet unique to the individuals leveraging the 500-plus platforms currently operating today. But the crowdfunding option also comes with its challenges, especially for those who have been very successful in raising money for their new inventions, startups or nonprofits. What’s interesting is that for dreamers, sometimes raising the money is the simple part—turning these dreams into a reality (with a large crowd keeping an eye on their progress) proves to be much more of a challenge.
Problems with order fulfillment, scaling a new business, constant communication with backers and managing the community are all big challenges faced in the past, present and will continue in the future. Keep in mind that through the traditional route of securing funding, investors typically address these challenges upfront and demand plans for overcoming these issues well before making investments. However, in crowdfunding, fundraisers are tapping numerous individuals for donations on a much smaller scale, who are in turn trusting in the individual business acumen and decision-making skills of the fundraiser(s).
For example, Ethan Mollick, a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, conducted a crowdfundung study and found that a large majority of crowdfunding participants meet their commitments to their backers, but that more than 75 percent of them deliver said commitments (mostly physical goods) later than expected.
In general though, most project funders understand delays, as long as communication between the two parties is constant and comprehensible. But, again, there are many examples where just keeping up with the communications between dreamers and their supporters can consume more time than delivering the product to market.
“Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people,”Apple co-founder Steve Jobs once said.
A successful businessperson with all the experience in the world will also likely be the first person to admit that they were only as successful as the team around them. No one person can do everything, and especially in today’s startup climate, we all need a team of people and/or third-party vendors to support our goals.
According to a 2009 study on small businesses, the average cost of starting a new business from scratch is estimated at just over $30,000. Think of everything included within this $30,000 (which also depends on the nature of the business itself). Most businesses require office space, computer and office equipment, accounting services, legal services, IT services, administrative services and more.
Most small businesses fail because of two main reasons: lack of experience and lack of funding.
One great attribute of the U.S. (and several other countries across the world) is the focus and support on small business development. Small businesses are key to economic stability and the dynamo that increases wealth. What people may not know is there are numerous available resources to gain assistance, guidance, and mentorship for starting a new endeavor.
Organizations like SCORE, a nonprofit association comprised of 13,000+ volunteer business counselors throughout the U.S. and UP America—a White House initiative to celebrate, inspire, and accelerate high-growth entrepreneurship throughout the nation—are two of several major support systems for small business and entrepreneurism.
I’d also urge people to find a local Small Business Development Center within their community and to tap a local business incubator found through the National Business Incubation Association.
Next Generation Crowdfunding
For these reasons, the next generation of crowdfunding platforms needs to include new capabilities such as peer review, networking and expert support, which are key fundamentals for helping any startup have a greater chance of becoming successful.
By intertwining the funding event with additional opportunities for education and support (via free and paid resources as well as expert consultancy), a new ecosystem is created whereby the opportunity for greater business transaction can be achieved.
In today’s age, I want people to understand there are support mechanisms available for anyone and equal opportunities to start a new venture. And with the aid of resources like technology, anything is possible.
Whether you are trying to secure venture funding or funding from the crowd, there are several billions of dollars up for grabs and anyone has a chance to claim their piece of the pie. Whatever you choose to do in life, just know that you can creatively define your own destiny. There is always a way to achieve a dream and there are always people and organizations to help support your passions.
Jason T. Graf is the founder and concept-creator of Crowdit. This piece first appeared on Innovation Excellence.
Freed from the boundaries of traditional materials, additive manufacturing allows engineers to design more organically, optimizing weight-to-strength ratios with design flexibility. The process also has the benefits of using less material and producing less waste.
There are opportunities to leverage this new process in healthcare, beyond traditional applications, by using rapid prototyping and looking at the process as a strategic business manufacturing technology.
At GE Healthcare we aim to develop products that help clinicians predict, diagnose, treat and monitor health issues in patients earlier and more effectively. Recent advances in manufacturing technologies like additive are also helping us to tap into the creative power of crowdsourcing to help us meet those needs.
Establishing a Knowledge Base
Engineers are re-thinking how they design. They are exploiting various 3D printing technologies to create better products for a 21st century healthcare environment. This requires design engineers to work differently. They have to visualize and expand old design methods—ones that have been programmed into them since college—and move to additive processes.
To accelerate the learning curve on additive technology, process engineers conduct pilot evaluations of additive processes. They start by applying the technology to appropriate components. This helps capture the “secret sauce” of the additive process while establishing design parameters including material composition, mechanical integrity, dimensional tolerances, overall uniformity and interactions between additive components and the other components used to create the final product.
There are great opportunities for additive in printing everything from X-ray components to flexible electronic circuits. The diversity of applications on which to experiment will encourage aggressive learning and knowledge capture to grow and make 3D printing a key manufacturing technology for years to come.
The Benefits of Crowdsourcing
We believe great ideas can be found both inside and outside our company, which is why we’ve embraced solutions such as crowdsourcing in this technology. By connecting with other innovators, we also open up our creativity and increase entrepreneurship to find better outcomes for healthcare more quickly.
GE and NineSigma have been working together to help drive the development of additive technologies with a 3D printing production quest for advanced materials. Three winners of the prototype contest were announced earlier this week. Their submissions were evaluated for geometric precision and overall mass and volume. Each winner will receive a $50,000 prize.
Printing Our Future
Additive technology is clearly driving a renaissance in manufacturing, and it’s also having an impact on how engineers design. There’s great potential for change in robotics, injection molding, metal castings and adaptive manufacturing, just to name a few. Watch out for incredible innovation in the future as additive ramps up across the globe.
Mike Hoge is GE Healthcare general manager of Advanced Manufacturing.