Creating an Innovation Culture Within Manufacturing


Andrew Walker is Director of Business Engagement at the MADE Project – a suite of European funded projects, delivered by University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) through its research Centre for Advanced Batch Manufacture (CBM).

He shares his insights into creating a vibrant innovation culture.

CEO’s can be surprisingly resistant to the idea of fostering an innovation culture within the workplace. Perhaps it conjures up images of the kind of Google-esque offices that sport beanbags and table tennis tables in their communal areas, and where staff sit on balance balls while they work!

More likely it is because most manufacturing firms thrive upon the predictability and standardisation that lends itself to scalability. The prospect of ideas-people spending time brainstorming fresh ideas and novelties and upsetting the status quo by stepping out of their pre-defined roles and tasks, may not seem like a great use of time, in our competitive era.

However, manufacturing has always driven the swift evolution of technology. Has there ever been a time when the consumer has expected more and more innovation, and new and updated, quality iterations of their favourite products to keep them engaged?

It is clear too that innovation can and does lead to greater efficiencies – and no manufacturer will turn their nose up at that. Many of the biggest names in manufacturing are attuned to the fact that valuable, viable innovation does not simply emerge from behind the door of the R&D department. More often, it comes from the workers at the coal face. Those who interact with the end user, and those who create the end product are best placed to know what adaptations and innovations are needed and will be marketable. So, it is important that companies encourage everyone within a company to make innovative thinking an embedded part of what they do. The average Toyota worker, for example, including those working on its assembly line, is said to contribute more than a hundred ideas every year. Your workforce really is your greatest asset!

So, how can an employer foster a culture of innovation?

Give employees time to innovate

This approach may not suit every operation, but if you want people to innovate, setting aside time in which they are encouraged to do, works for firms like 3M and Google. It is their company policy to invite staff to spend up to 20 percent of their time working on projects of their own choosing. 3-M instigated this kind of policy back in the 1940s – and I’m sure it is still going strong.

Nominate an Innovation Champion

All organisations have those magic members of staff who, thanks to their engaging, encouraging personality, bring out the best in others. Identify this person and make them your innovation champion. This role should not be given to someone because of their elevated place in the managerial hierarchy. Task them to engage with staff at all levels, inviting their ideas in both an informal way and at structured, regular meetings.  Support them to seek out the creative thinkers who have, until now, been keeping their heads down the simply dealing with the task in hand.

Create a resource library for innovation

You already have a workforce that is engaged with manufacturing, engineering, tech, STEM and with the beautiful art of ‘making things work’. Foster their fascinations by creating a library of resources that can be dipped into by all staff members whenever they want to.

Reward innovative thinking

Incentives: cash, wine, chocolate, an afternoon off, a big, public thank you. These all work.

Suspend your ingrained assumptions

If you are an old hand in your industry you will have seen scores of innovations and ideas come and go. So, there is a danger that you are pre-disposed to quash ideas that feel familiar, because they did not succeed in the past. This kind of natural bias and interpretation can shut down innovative thinking. Let each fresh idea breathe and unfold as it needs to. New minds, new marketplaces, new tools and new technologies might bring success where, previously there was failure.

Embrace failure

Failure is an integral part of innovation and your reaction to it will set the tone for future innovation. It is vital that failure is embraced as an opportunity to learn. Failures bring with them fresh data and concrete insights that can be used further down the line. Bubble wrap, the pacemaker, the Dyson vacuum cleaner all came from failure. (WD-40 is so-named because the previous 39 versions didn’t quite work.)

For further details about the MADE Project, which is supported by the Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund, and by the European Structural and Investment Funds, go to:


Advanced Design Engineering (50:50 collaboration. Match with employees time, and no cash cost to the company)

This project is focused on helping Welsh SMEs in the supply chain network to realise the benefits of new technologies in a practical way, piloting applications of technology such as electron beam melting, additive layer manufacturing, 3D scanning/reverse engineering, vacuum casting and product development.

Upskilling for Industry 4.0:Wales (up to 70% EU Funded*) – Advanced Manufacturing

These qualifications are delivered using a blended learning approach, helping organisations overcome the hype of Industry 4.0 and focus on clear, deliverable technologies that participants can use in their organisations straight away, giving the skills they need to deliver authentic economic benefit.

IIM: International Innovation Management (up to 70% EU funded*)

This Masters programme seeks to produce managers with an international perspective who understand how to bring innovative products and services to market, how companies can introduce and exploit innovation, and how new commercial opportunities can be identified and realised.

Both programmes are at Masters level, through modular bite-size learning, which students can access in a hop-on / hop-off style, as there are multiple entry points during the calendar year, enabling participants to give value for their organisations and still balance their work and other commitments.

*subject to eligibility
The suite of projects has been supported by the European Social Fund through the Welsh Government and supported by the European Regional Development Fund.

Peirianneg Dylunio Uwch (cydweithrediad 50:50. Cyfateb gydag amser gweithwyr, dim cost ariannol i’r cwmni)

Mae’r prosiect yn ffocysu ar helpu Busnesau Bach a Chanolig Cymru yn y rhwydwaith dolen gyflenwi i wireddu buddion technolegau newydd mewn ffordd ymarferol, peilota’r defnydd o dechnoleg megis toddi pelydrau electronau, gweithgynhyrchu haenau ychwanegol, sganio 3D/ôl-saernïo, castio gwactod a datblygu cynnyrch.

Uwchsgilio ar gyfer diwydiant 4.0: Cymru (Wedi’i gyllido gan yr UE hyd at 70%*) – Uwch Gynhyrchu

Mae’r cymwysterau hyn yn cael eu cyflwyno gan ddefnyddio dull dysgu cyfunol, yn helpu sefydliadau i ymdopi â heip Diwydiant 4.0 a ffocysu ar dechnolegau clir, danfonadwy y gall cyfranogwyr eu defnyddio ar unwaith yn eu sefydliadau, gan rhoi iddyn nhw’r sgiliau sydd eu hangen i ddarparu buddion economaidd dilys.

IIM: Rheoli Arloesedd Rhyngwladol (Wedi’i gyllido gan yr UE hyd at 70*)

Mae’r rhaglen Meistr yn anelu at gynhyrchu rheolwyr gyda golwg ryngwladol sy’n deall sut i ddod â nwyddau a gwasanaethau arloesol i’r farchnad, sut y gall cwmnïau gyflwyno a gwneud y mwyaf o arloesedd, a sut y gellir adnabod a gwireddu cyfleoedd masnachol newydd.

Mae’r ddwy raglen ar lefel Meistr, drwy ddysgu modiwlaidd mewn darnau bach, y mae myfyrwyr yn gallu mynd atynt unrhyw bryd, gan bod nifer o bwyntiau ymuno yn ystod y flwyddyn galendr, gan olygu bod cyfranogwyr yn gallu rhoi gwerth i’w sefydliadau a chydbwyso eu gwaith a’u hymrwymiadau eraill ar yr un pryd.

*yn amodol ar gymhwystra
Mae’r gyfres hon o brosiectau wedi ei chefnogi gan Gronfa Cymdeithasol Ewrop drwy Lywodraeth Cymru a’i chefnogi gan Gronfa Datblygu Rhanbarthol Ewrop.


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