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Encouraging Employee Innovation DAVE RESSER, WEGMAN, HESSLER & VANDERBURG (CLEVELAND)


uccessful foundries rely on innovation from every member of the company, which is no diff erent from many other manufactur-


ing businesses. After all, each employee typically has more constant contact and intimate knowledge of their tasks than employees “above” them on the company organizational chart. T is inti- mate knowledge often sows the seeds of innovation whether through necessity or simply mentally visualizing process improvement. For example, a molding machine op-


erator might see the need for new safety equipment or develop an optimized cor- ing design. Perhaps main- tenance personnel fi nds a new way to quickly replace a hydraulic cylinder. T is type of innovation frequently happens, and manufacturers need to capture these inno- vations to help the company maintain its quality mission and sustain a competitive advantage. Foundries can put systems and programs into place to help capture these ideas and make the most of them. Moreover, man- agement teams certainly do not want to see these innovations leave the business to benefi t other companies. Many innovations come from


employees during the regular course of their work. Most employees are generally paid only for their work, and they might not be motivated to be involved in extra efforts that could derive from innovations in their work equipment and methods. As a result, there can be an expensive gap between the innovation taking place in the company, and the status of the gathering of innovative ideas to improve the business as a whole. One helpful tool for some organi-


zations is easing the process for ideas and innovation to come to light. Some employees are shy about suggesting new things, and we have to fi nd ways around that obstacle. It is often helpful to invite ideas and reward successful innovations


to transform the operation and develop the competitive advantage that your company has developed. Acceptance of new ideas from every level can gain buy- in from greater numbers of employees, which then helps to boost morale and dedication to foundry work. T ink, too, about whether your foundry makes it easy for an employee to develop good ideas and process improvements. You certainly do not want employees to scrap valuable ideas because the process is too diffi cult. Additionally, make sure good ideas are valued in your foundry. T at does not re- quire bonuses or cash rewards, but could take the form of celebrating and inter- nally publicizing teams and individuals





In the end, your business relies on the innovations, ideas, and inventions of a wide array of employees.


who develop innovations. T is, in turn, helps make sure employees understand what benefi ts their improvements mean for the company and the employees on an individual level. Many of these ideas can remain


protected within the foundry, but some innovations may be signifi cant enough to seek patent or trademark protection. Most employees appreciate the notion that the company values their innovations enough to pursue that type of protection when it is warranted. Along those lines, it is often valuable for many employees to understand the basics of intellectual property protection. Capturing these innovations can be another issue, but one with plenty of solu- tions. Many companies have developed formal and informal systems to report in- novations. It may be important to enable employees to report any kind of improve- ment or innovation from a relatively small idea with respect to the workfl ow on the foundry fl oor to technical improvements


44 | METAL CASTING DESIGN & PURCHASING | Mar/Apr 2018


in the foundry equipment. Innova- tion reporting allows the company to capture any kind of innovation and also helps to lower the psychological hurdle that some employees feel when considering reporting their innova- tions and ideas. Some companies also conduct regularly scheduled recognition ceremonies for the “best improvement,” where employees can win awards for their ideas and innovation. In other cases, an automatically generated letter or email thanking the innovator can suffi ce. As you likely already know, the impact of non-fi nancial recogni- tion plans can diff er from foundry to foundry and diff erent plans should be applied across the organiza- tion as needed to encourage innovation in all areas. Often, if a simple mechanism for the employees to report their bright ideas does not exist, the ideas will never be heard. Your engineering team is also


a great resource, and can be the eyes and ears with regard to the innovations that are developed, particularly in the foundry. For


example, if a core machine operator develops an innovation, the operator may approach an engineer to apply their engineering skill to eff ectively implement a mechanical change to the core machine. In other instances, the engineering staff could be asked to calculate a time sav- ings for a process of the core machine. At times, the engineering team can be the fi rst point of contact for any management team that is seeking new innovations, no matter their source. In the end, your business likely relies


upon the innovations, ideas, and inven- tions of a wide array of employees. Help keep your competitive edge by encourag- ing these developments through a notifi - cation plan, recognition, and appreciation of these internal developments. If the innovators know that the extra work undertaken to assist the improvement process matters to everyone else, and is noticed, a culture of innovation and im- provement can be fostered to benefi t the foundry in a multitude of areas. ■


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