Smart Machines & Factories
Creating a route to Industry 4.0
Published:  23 March, 2018

Festo’s senior consultant, Training & Consulting - Neil Lewin, says the company has identified four key creativity techniques that can help to develop creative thinking and generate new innovative ideas. Smart Machines & Factories reports.

The biggest barrier to implementing new digital technology is often a lack of creativity to question existing manufacturing and business models. Controversial perhaps, but an Oliver Wyman report in 20161 showed that the enormous gains that digital transformation can bring are not just about technology. The greatest value to be had from Industry 4.0 lies elsewhere.

This raises a key issue in manufacturing and engineering. Are our leaders equipped with the right skills to question where things need to improve, identify where Industry 4.0 can add value and create greater efficiency, and look at their own weaknesses, and those within the team and the organisation as a whole?

Fortunately, the process of creativity in business planning can be learned, but there are several approaches to developing creativity, all with their own benefits and pitfalls.

Technique 1: Brainstorming

This approach is best used if you need to generate a lot of ideas in a short space of time. It’s particularly effective when dealing with less complex problems.

Holding a brainstorming session not only generates a high volume of ideas, there’s also a good chance you’ll come up with some innovative solutions. Brainstorming has a synergistic effect on teams, where the outcomes are greater than the sum of the individual parts. However, it’s likely that many of the ideas generated will be impractical and the results of any brainstorming are entirely dependent on the employees taking part.

Hierarchy or certain participants taking a dominant role can inhibit creativity and negatively influence a brainstorming session. Successful brainstorming requires all participants to build on the suggestions of others, rather than dismiss them. This means that ideas will be taken further and people’s inhibitions about taking part will be lessened.

The key steps to successful brainstorming are to bring together a relevant group of people, effectively define your problem, generate ideas and evaluate the ideas as a group. However, the real success of these sessions is when there is a system in place to process the ideas that the group have decided to take forward. There is nothing less rewarding than giving ideas only for nothing to be done with them.

Technique 2: TILMAG

TILMAG is a German acronym that literally translates into English as ‘the transformation of ideal solution elements in an association matrix’. Put more simply, it’s a creative thinking methodology used for gathering ideas by comparing examples of how people have solved similar problems. TILMAG is most useful for developing product or process innovations where the ideal solution is already known.

The creativity session starts with defining and presenting the problem. Ideal solution elements (ISEs) are then identified. These might be the features, requirements or desired attributes that are necessary to overcome the problem. Using these ISEs, a TILMAG matrix is built and solutions are generated to populate the matrix. All of the concepts and ideas within the matrix are then structured and documented. Solutions are often ordered or regrouped into the subsystems or processes that they affect.

TILMAG takes a more rational approach than other more abstract methods, such as brainstorming. Associations can create a gap to develop new solutions that have not previously been considered. Although a weakness of TILMAG is that ISEs are all given an equal weighting when generating solutions. These may not accurately reflect the desired outcome.

Technique 3: Synectics

Another process for structured problem solving is called Synectics. This method, which is ideal for teams, uses creative thinking, analogy and informal conversation among a small group of people with diverse experience and expertise. It’s particularly helpful for problems that participants have been trying to solve for a long time. To be effective, Synectics requires a moderator and a sufficient number of contributors who have different experiences that might not be directly relevant to the problem being discussed.

Synectics aims to activate creative thinking and find new solutions through a process that involves defining the problem, generating spontaneous solutions, redefining the problem and then brainstorming personal analogies, symbolic analogies and analogies from a foreign area.

The analogies are then transferred to the problem in hand and used in the development of new solutions and approaches.

Technique 4: Design thinking

Not just for designers, design thinking is practiced by innovators in fields as diverse as science, art, engineering, music, business and literature. Universally applicable for everything from product development to organisational development, design thinking takes the customer’s need as a starting point.

Through a process of understanding, observing, defining and ideas generation, design thinking uses the association of playful ideas within a team. Design thinking seeks to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent with an initial level of understanding.

Ideas are then prototyped and tested to combine creative thinking with a solutions-based approach to solving problems. For this reason, it works best in a company where the culture is open to change and tolerant of ‘mistakes’.

Innovation through people

We need to recognise that the success of Industry 4.0 will not be down to technology, big data or the cloud. Success will be down to our people. They need to have the knowledge, skills and creativity to capitalise on what Industry 4.0 can achieve.

Companies need to consider whether they face internal constraints, in terms of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, if they are to reinvent their business models and ways of working to ensure future success. Once leaders are able to develop their creativity, they will be more able to identify where Industry 4.0 can truly add value.

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Perspectives on Manufacturing Industries, Oliver Wyman, 2016



Taking inspiration from nature

Festo says that it believes in investing in innovation, but it knows that technology alone is not enough. A framework is needed to turn good ideas, knowledge and technology into successful products on the market.

The company highlights that innovations come about increasingly through teamwork. It brings together people with different professional skills and personal abilities. An internal ideas platform enables ideas to be shared, evaluated and commented on in a manner similar to social networks. Internal experts are networked into virtual teams and innovation field leaders initiate, moderate and structure the exchange of expertise.

Festo also explains that creativity and inspiration is also about opening up to innovations beyond itself. In Germany it is a founding member of the Labs Network Industry 4.0. It has in place a process to manage an external network and cooperating partners, supported by competitions for ideas and open innovation platforms.

The company’s growing menagerie of bionic animals is a direct result of its continuous efforts to support creative thinking. The project involves the Festo Bionic Learning Network, which is a partnership between Festo and renowned universities, institutes and development companies. It also has a team of Festo engineers working on navigation, communication and surveillance systems, sensor technologies and lightweight construction.

The starting point for this creative process was the simple question, “What can we learn from nature to make our products better?”. From that it designed ultralight flying objects (UFOs) – including penguins, jellyfish, butterflies. Each of these is equipped with an indoor Global Positioning System and infrared camera, allowing several to autonomously fly around without colliding. They illustrate two automation principles needed for the factories of the future. How technology can enable man and machine to safely work in tandem, and how control technology can function in a small space and be energy efficient.