4D Substrates Now

4D Printing is a combination of 3D printing and a time change element that provides the fourth dimension — hence a 4D substrate is one that will by design change form over time.

Smart fabrics and 4D printing were identified by Gartner as technologies way up on their hype cycle.

We tend to agree with their assessment.

However, there are useful lessons from additive manufacturing for those of us in the roll goods industry — even if 3D (let alone 4D) roll goods are not in the immediate future.

  • We should look at how our products are made from a fresh perspective. Many roll goods are constructed using technology that is decades old. Additive manufacturing teaches us that there may be unforeseen ways to construct a better product.
  • Rather than focusing on what our products are made of (e.g., polyester, viscose) we should be focusing on what product properties (extensibility, absorbency) we are trying to achieve.

There is no need to wait for 3D printing to mature to the point that we can make 4D products. The technology for 4D fabrics is readily available now by combining existing technology in new ways.

The Cost of a Free Screening Trial

We understand that at large companies, trying out new products can be complicated. The development process is full of trial and error – but if you add to that the administrative red tape, interfacing with SAP, etc., it can be almost impossible. That’s why at Micrex, we help you shed the red tape and focus on the trial itself.

We’ve said it many times: we believe in quick turnaround and fail-fast. The more ideas you try out, the greater chances you have of succeeding. That is why we offer free screening trials.

But make no mistake: screening trials are not “free” for us, and we take them very seriously. I believe they are the single most important thing we do at Micrex.

This is what you get with a free screening trial at Micrex:

  • I (president of Micrex) evaluate and supervise your trial plan
  • A senior Micrex operator runs your trial
  • Your material is tested on multiple configurations of our equipment with various settings and temperatures. With our expertise, we can complete these trial runs rapidly
  • You receive your sample back quickly and with a write-up of results
  • We figure the average screening trial costs Micrex in excess of $2,000

    The bottom line: screening trials are serious business for us at Micrex.

    Get the details and find out how to get started here.

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.

Fail Fast: It Should Be Part Of Your Strategy

At Micrex, we are big believers in the concept of “Fail Fast”. We have always talked about it with our customers – and what we have learned is that there are different interpretations of what “fail fast” means.

Fail?

From an engineering perspective, fail fast is about system safety and optimization. A system that is designed to fail fast is one that will go into a failure state, rather than continue to operate in a possibly failed state. This allows back-up or redundant systems to immediately be activated.

The key is to minimize the delay between a likely failure and a truly flagging failure, so that an alternative solution can be implemented.

Extrapolating this to product development leads to two more alternatives:

  • Fail but learn: failure produces learnings, which inform next steps
  • Fail often: design the system to make it easy to try the next thing.

Celebrating Failure Doesn’t Seem to Make Sense

Why celebrate failure – particularly when we know that the corporate world rewards success?
The product development professional must strive to foster an environment where failure can occur without negative consequence. The good news: this is not as hard as it sounds.

The Solution: Test Early Or Inexpensively

It means looking for ways to test either early or inexpensively. Test components before testing the entire system. If something seems to work, then test variations that fail – it will give you confidence in the solution’s robustness.

Counterpoint: I was chatting with a long-time customer about changes at his company because of a recent merger.

Me: “What’s new at your company?”

Customer: “They’re training us to be more entrepreneurial”.

Me: “How’s it going?”

Customer: “Great – until something does not work out”.

WHY THIS BLOG:

Companies today need to become much better at innovation. While most organizations claim to foster new products, their actual track record is poor. Managers are using old tools and methods to shape the future.

Except for the rare companies, such as Google or P&G that are richly endowed with a culture of innovation, most managers are left to fumble or improvise a process for developing new products. Regrettably — these improvisations are likely to fail.

Yet it is the nimble smaller firm, when combined with an appropriate innovation strategy, that has the greatest chance for success.

My goal is to help those who are struggling with PD to find a successful path through the art and science of innovation.