The Last Word: ‘Visible' Innovation
In my June column, I related that Praveen Gupta’s new book, Business Innovation in the 21st Century, contends that innovation is a process that can be understood and, hence, taught and refined to improve the results of innovation. This is an important concept, because if true, it means that the United States has a means by which it can maintain its innovative and competitive edge in the global market. However, like most ideas, it is critical to see “learned innovation” in practice to determine whether it can be accomplished.
A recent trip to Ann Arbor, MI, took me to the offices of Coherix Inc. I had the opportunity to sit with Dwight Carlson, president and CEO of the company, and learn of the company’s history, technology and strong link to innovation.
Coherix’s products are based on a technology called digital holography. Digital holography uses a tunable wavelength holographic interferometer to gather data and is then coupled with powerful software to create a rapid, high-resolution 3-D image of a measured surface. Out-of-tolerance measurements are instantly recognizable in color mapping of the part.
Coherix’s ShaPix, is used to measure precision stampings, torque converter housings, engine blocks, brake pads and other automotive parts. Coherix’s 3DX and I-Cite software are used to inspect delicate semiconductor chips and packages. In increasingly complex parts such as these, Carlson says contact methods of measurement do not generate enough data points. In addition, manufacturers want complete measurement data on these parts in as near real-time as possible.
“What is driving the change [toward this technology] is the tighter tolerances required of parts, when microns matter,” says Carlson. While there has been a drive toward this level of speed and accuracy for a long time in the semiconductor market, Carlson admits other industries have been slower to adapt the 3-D holography Coherix offers. He labels the 3-D holography “disruptive innovation” to the parts manufacturing process.
“Many high-tech companies have told me they wouldn’t touch industries such as automotive with a 10-foot pole. But once you show product developers and process engineers that this [3-D holography] has use throughout the entire product life cycle-from development, through initial launch, production, as well as the warranty period-as well as provide total traceability, it becomes an easier decision to buy.”
Carlson uses a nearby automotive plant as an example of the savings and power of this innovation. “They paid more to just program their CMMs (coordinate measuring machines) than they did on the entire ShaPix implementation,” he says. Carlson estimates the company’s technology will expand into the aerospace and medical device industries within a few years.
Such innovation does not come quickly. Coherix’s solutions have been developed and tested for more than 10 years. This innovative technology has its roots at the nearby University of Michigan. Carlson still maintains close ties to the school, with several employees who are current or former students.
The technology also was refined and tested in the labs and plants of many leading automotive manufacturers and other manufacturers. In 2003, Carlson says, Coherix was launched as a separate company and the founders still spent another two or three years refining their products. They are now making a concerted effort to increase industry use.
I observed innovation and a “can do” spirit at Coherix. The management is committed to fostering these attitudes and is investing in them. And, as Gupta’s book points out, innovation drives business success and will continue to do so.
What does your company do to promote innovation? How innovative are you? Let me know at email@example.com.
For more information about digital holography and Coherix, visit www.coherix.com.