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4 Tips to Scale Up – Going Beyond Lab Trials

Producing a new product using a sheet material (paper, textile, film, nonwoven or composite) involves overcoming a lot of obstacles and rocky patches, especially when moving from a small concept sample to a commercial product. How to scale up and achieve success despite the roadblocks? Realize that changes will likely be needed in the product and process – and the sooner these are found, the better.

1. Be Sure You Have a Sense of Urgency

Time is of the essence: you and those around you must be filled with a sense of excitement, timeliness and the importance of your challenge. If you fail, you just might run out of time. Move quickly.

2. Have a Clear Plan to Scale Up  

In the quest to make a good lab scale sample – do not cheat! Producing a beautiful, small sample at slow speed is not the goal. It only gets harder as you scale up. At Micrex, we have seen too many customers take a short cut and get excited about a small sample, assuming it will successfully scale up.

Lab scale is where you look for truths:

  • It is more difficult to run wide than narrow. As an analogy — a long bridge is harder to build than a short one.
  • Run speed – slow is easy, fast is hard.
  • Many processes fail over time, as dust or other contaminates build up, or process components wear.

At lab scale, the severity of these issues become apparent. How do the results change if you double the width, length or speed? This might indicate a limitation or provide an opportunity to prevent a problem.

3. Don’t Assume the Raw Material Will Be Consistent

As in cooking and wine making – the ingredients are important! We often have customers who claim that one batch of roll goods is “exactly the same” as another. This will be documented with a data sheet or C of A. The reality is that no two rolls of material are the same.

The real question is: “How does the process handle normal variation of the raw material?”

4. Keep in Touch with Marketing and the Customer

Most of roll goods product development is tied to specifications. In the broader world of product design, there is often no specification. As a result, the entity running a trial may make assumptions that will not align with the end customer. Be sure to ask yourself: are you using the right specification?

The Portfolio Effect – Odds of Success (Part 3)

Here are a few more thoughts to add to our discussion of the portfolio effect and risk.

I grew up admiring the concept of the “Lone Wolf” inventor. The Wright Brothers, Edison, Tesla, Bell. Parts of what we all have heard are myth, and some is reality. Several of these “individual inventors” created what looked a lot like a corporate entity at their time. However, the myth of the Lone Wolf lives on – e.g. consider Steve Jobs and the iPhone, or Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook.

It is dangerous to subscribe to this myth. At Micrex, 98% of our customers are large corporations. Only they have the ability and resources to launch a new product into a competitive global marketplace. They understand that the best way to develop new products is by having a broad portfolio of initiatives at various stages of maturity. This approach takes most of the luck and some of the risk out of product development.

The portfolio approach for product development shares the theoretical underpinnings with the same concept in finance. In the 1970’s, “Modern Portfolio Theory” conclusively demonstrated that maximizing return while systematically controlling risk required that one work with a diversified portfolio of investments.

At Micrex we have a soft spot for drunks, sailors and entrepreneurs. Despite our better senses — we occasionally get to work with an entrepreneur in a startup. In almost all cases, they run out of time or money (which in many ways is the same thing) before their product is ready for market.

How do we handle this same risk at Micrex? Through our customers. At any one time, Micrex is working on 300 – 400 projects. Many will not succeed, but some will. It is a matter of averages.

Luck

When Napoleon was asked what kind of general he preferred, he said, “Just give me a lucky general”.

406px-Jacques_Louis_David_-_Bonaparte_franchissant_le_Grand_Saint-Bernard,_20_mai_1800_-_Google_Art_Project

While I am not a big believer in luck per se, this blog makes many references to luck. It is understood that invention is all about the unexpected occurrence. Having the insight to recognize these events and to run and seize opportunity could be considered making your own luck.

In “The Black Swan” Taleb argues that the inventor in Manhattan has a huge advantage over the inventor living on a mountain top. The Manhattan inventor gets invited to cocktail parties. At cocktail parties he meets investors, and investors are what you need to be a successful inventor.

The One Best Way (Part 6): Cowboy Coding

Software development is hard. Whether it is combining incredible levels of creativity and complexity, or talking about the high rates of failure – the debate about software design and development techniques has a lot of relevance to other disciplines.

We have already touched on the use of a grand design. This is sometimes referred to in software as “Waterfall Design”, as all parts of the product are supposed to flow together and work as one in the end.

At the other end of the spectrum is “Cowboy Coding” where the lone programmer is given freedom to do what seems right. There are “nicer” versions. For example, “Agile Programming” has the patina of an intellectual framework.

B. F. Skinner said, “A first principle not formally recognized by scientific methodologists: when you run into something interesting, drop everything else and study it.”

Just another Harvard trained cowboy.

There Must Be a Pony Here Someplace …

There are many versions of this story, which is often attributed to Ronald Reagan, but it also serves as a good metaphor for those in Product Development.

There are twin boys of five or six. Mom was worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “No,” replied the pessimist, “I want a pony.”

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere.”

Very often the trick is indeed finding the pony!