The concept of “Open” dates back to the Nineties, when the first open source software were created, and the first open architecture structures paved the way for a totally customizable interface with the computers and their functioning.
But when it comes to R&D and innovation, the essay “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” by E.Raymond, being the so-called “manifesto” of the open source software, greatly applies to the dilemma between the typically closed R&D and the multitude of interests arising from an external technology transfer.
Soon, the open model started to be applied to management and the manufacturing world: among the first to respond to this need we find Henry Chesbrough that in the essay “The era of open innovation” (2003), focuses on the ongoing transformation of the traditional innovation model, which can be defined as a ”closed innovation”, and new paradigms that instead push for an open search for innovation across enterprise boundaries.
But how can the open innovation philosophy be applied to the new era of manufacturing?
The importance of collaborative solutions can not only be applied to innovation – mostly R&D – in products and services, but also for the manufacturing functions in a company. Therefore, a more complete open innovation framework also within innovation ecosystem needs to take the more downstream innovation activities, such as manufacturing, into account (Chesbrough and Bogers, 2014). As such, collaborative efforts in manufacturing play an important part of any collaborative manufacturing platform.
Intelligent factories require an incredible effort in acquiring the resources and competences to be built upon, which can’t always be economically sustainable and this type of investments can end up in being unsuccessful. Thus, the new way is to look outside the walls of the factory to find the missing know-how and techniques, together with the most profitable way to take advantage of them. But not only: the technology transferral towards the outside can convert into a new profitable revenue creator for the business.
In the context of manufacturing ecosystems, a smart factory could relate to a way to enhance the collective and individual capabilities of manufacturing companies to foster growth and competitiveness by providing integration and alliance between partners and systems when they collaborate in an open innovation ecosystem where competences and technologies are mutually shared. The organization and management of a smart factory should be based of in-depth technological understanding as well as clear rules and procedures regarding knowledge sharing and potential disclosure in this open innovation environment (Bogers et al. 2012). This could be either related to open networks of wireless connected devices operating without direct human interaction, or to an organization where interconnection between different actors chosen to collaborate is more physical. The creation of such an innovation community should generate more opportunities for knowledge sharing where the innovation process is facilitated for each member (Iansiti and Levien 2004; Moore 1996). A prerequisite for such collaboration is an alignment of business models between the participating companies (Chesbrough and Bogers, 2014; West and Bogers, 2014).
An interesting example: GE’s “microfactory”
In 2014, GE launched FirstBuild, a microfactory and open community space in Louisville, Kentucky for students, makers, and engineers to co-create the smart appliances of the future. The project is a collaboration between GE, the University of Louisville, and Local Motors, an open source hardware platform: the goal is to innovate, exploiting the last 3D Printing technologies, to bring products to market faster than before.
GE’s original idea for open innovation and a micro-manufacturing facility came from the company’s first crowdsourcing project to create a better jet engine bracket. In June 2013, the company held a contest in partnership with GrabCAD, an open engineering community called “3D printing design quest.”
This paved the way for the partnership with Local Motors, which was originally created to crowdsource the manufacturing of vehicles. Local Motors was a great partner for the power of its web platform, which promotes the idea of co-creation in communities. Local Motors has since focused on the idea of harnessing the power of a community’s ideas and inventions through these microfactories.
GE’s approach, as for many other companies that are paving the way through open manufacturing, shows the revolutionary switch from “know-how” to “know-where”, where cross-disciplinary challenges are faced with the help of a multitude of external actors, in a sort of “acoustic space” of innovation.