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Innovation for Small Manufacturers

Essential Product Development for Engineers

Innovation for Small Manufacturers

For many large and small manufacturers, innovation in product development is often considered key to their business success. Increasingly, the best businesses are doing the following innovative activities:

  • Successfully exploiting new ideas
  • Quickly getting new products to market
  • Making improvements to existing products
  • Incorporating new technologies
  • Developing better services and processes

Innovation for Small Manufacturers

All the above are making big differences to manufacturers, enabling them to differentiate themselves in the market place, providing them with a competitive advantage and ultimately leading to greater profitability. Innovation for Small Manufacturers includes both:

Innovation can include improvements to products, services and processes. It also encompasses both incremental and radical improvements. For example, product upgrades and new product launches, respectively.

Innovation is all about making improvements, by doing something differently. For customers, innovation generates more value, often by creatively coming up with new solutions. Whilst this is all good factual stuff, for small manufacturers the question is, what key factors can drive successful innovation?


  • Creative people able to generate ideas and consider the unconventional.

  • Factoring in the time to innovate. Either as time weaved into the different stages of projects or a specific percentage of time set-aside to undertake innovative activities.

  • Senior management backing for innovation as a recognised activity the business does. Senior managers should personally believe in it, encourage it and champion it, citing examples where possible.

  • Strong staff interaction and communication, where collaboration is encouraged both internally and externally.

  • Working Environment. Related to communication, is the need for an open environment, conducive to innovation. One where it is ok and indeed expected for people from different parts of the business to meet up, talk and share ideas. Communal areas, accessible people and offices, employee events and a genuine open door policy, are all ways of facilitating an innovative working environment.

  • Processes and procedures that support innovation. Ensure your accepted ways of working enable innovative activities. Bureaucracy should not strangle innovation.

  • An effective decision making process. Innovation activities often throw up choices and options, not least because resources are scarce in small manufacturing business. As such, it is necessary to take decisions and have clarity about a way forward if innovation is not to be stifled.

  • Innovation recognised as a high profile activity, important to the success of the business.

  • Access to ideas, information and different ways of doing things. This may include market data, industry trends, case studies, company visits, trade shows and exhibitions, as well as how things are done in other sectors.


In some ways innovation for small manufacturers is about setting an environment where new ideas can be created and thrive. It is complementary to R&D, where the ideas are then developed and honed into better products, services and processes. The most successful businesses innovate constantly – it’s not about a one-off upgrade, instead continual improvement is necessary to maximise the benefits.

Innovation for Small Manufacturers: Good ideas and learning tips from larger manufacturers

Next... The Importance of an Innovative Mind-set

Back to Product Development Essentials 

When was the last time your business developed a NEW product? ...Or is 'Product Development' too far removed from your core Production Engineering activities?

Does your firm have a clear product development process, with a number of new products released to date? ...Or alternatively, do you think bread and butter production engineering is really what matters? Tell us about your product development experiences...

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