I’ve attended many of the local section meetings in the past. This group of Chemical Engineers is mostly homogenous, a wonderful chemical engineering term. Think of homogenous as mixing tomato sauce and cream to make spaghetti sauce – the ingredients are pretty similar (both thick liquids) and the result (hopefully) is pretty much what you expected. But, heterogeneous, another wonderful chemical engineering term, involves mixing things that are different, and you can’t always expect the result you’ll get. Just think, we can pour plain old water over some freshly ground coffee beans, and our nose is teased with an aroma that awakens our soul and bodies each morning.
Not to say that homogenous is boring, most certainly it is not. In fact, the local section of AIChE boasts a very bimodal population – a bunch of gray haired (or balding) baby boomers sharing dinner and a love of science with Gen Y, who just might be texting more than talking. People come from diverse geographical locations, educational backgrounds, and work at a wide variety of jobs supporting the oil & gas industry, petrochemical production, environmental safety, and next generation clean energy. So, I am excited to talk about NPD to this group.
I plan to ask if anyone works in NPD. I expect the answer to be a generalized “No”. How about you, do you work in New Product Development?
Of course you do. Almost everyone works in some arena involved with imagining, designing, or selling new products or services in order to enhance our quality of life. Cost reduction in manufacturing, product enhancements, and new-to-the-world are all project types that ultimately deliver new products to society. New products don’t have to be as flashy or pervasive as the iPod™ and can be as simple as qualifying a new supplier to provide a key ingredient at a lower cost or a quicker way to assemble the parts into a final, functioning gizmo.
And, of course, our lives are touched daily by new products and services. Cloud computing, heated seats in cars, programmable coffee pots, and steam-charged dryers are all new services or products that took creative imagination, technical design, market testing, and heterogeneous (or cross-functional) team spirit.
To be most successful at New Product Development, firms follow best practices. PDMA (Product Development and Management Association) conducts periodic, multi-industry studies to find out what works in NPD. The most recent survey found that the “best” companies input only 5 ideas for each commercial success compared to firms that aren’t as profitable in NPD, submitting 9 ides for each successful commercial launch. I like to call this “churn” – engineers, designers, and developers are churning in their cubicles on ideas that don’t fit the company’s strategy or technologies for which there is no customer demand. Strategic balance and match with technology improvements lead to success for a firm capitalizing on organic growth.
Indeed, tonight will be an interesting discussion. I am anxious to find out how many chemical engineers, who work day in and day out on new products, really think they work in NPD. I’ll report back next week!
To learn more about New Product Development, check out our various resources here.
Image of spaghetti courtesy of Flickr.
Image of man listening to iPod courtesy of Flickr.
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