The following outlines representative stories generated by participants of the STEAMengine project and its various programs. For example, several of the companies were enrolled in the RI School of Design (RISD) "Design for Manufaturing Innovation" (DfMI) program and others were part of the Polaris MEP "Manufacturing Innovation Challenge" (MIC) program. In each case, the company's learning experience is summarized and captured by their presentations to their peers at the June 2018 final Advisory Council Meeting.
Success Metric: Improved design and production process
Navatek develops and sells inflatable woven fabric boats as part of its larger boat manufacturing activities. Navatek’s RISD experience brought about two major changes: (1) their process for developing inflatables became more human and customer-centered. Naval Undersea Warfare Center communicated to Navatek the constraints facing the DoD and helped determine a better collaboration methodology. (2) Navatek connected with RISD-trained designers, hiring a full-time in-house designer to create a design thinking-based process that allows for examination of a range of options, rather than jumping to a manufacturing solution, which had been the company’s primary approach previously. Navatek now plans to expand the use of design thinking company-wide.
Success Metric: Improved customer attraction and retention
VR Industries produces circuit boards. As a result of their RISD experience, the company created a dedicated space internally to serve existing and prospective customers, called the Customer Innovation Center. The Center aims to: convert prospects into customers, design cost control/reduction means through process improvements rather than beating down the suppliers, and foster collaboration and design thinking with its physical environment, by creating spaces that allow lots of back and forth communication throughout the process. Ultimately, the Center will become a maker space that will attract the future VR workforce with specialized tools, including CAD and 3-D printers.
Success Metric: Customer Retention and increase revenue
Apogee is a highly specialized metal stamper. Their STEAMengine experience focused on formal market research and prospecting methodology. In the course of this project Apogee discovered that they were at risk of losing one of their key customers - who represented 10% of the company’s annual revenue. They were able to turn this customer around. Using engineering-driven market research Apogee identified a new adjacent market. They are now self-funding, with a projected 15% increase in revenue.
Success Metric: Creation of a succession plan and strategic market plan
This family-owned business provides technology to assist blind and hard of hearing individuals. This project achieved two parallel objectives: a succession plan and a strategic market plan. The succession plan focused on the transition of the company from an aging founder, the father, to his daughter. Two significant resources were leveraged: the RI Commerce Corporation Cluster grant and participation, by the daughter, in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses growth program.
Success Metric: Improved workflow and scheduling
Walco optimizes rotating electromechanical apparatus and automated process equipment. The STEAMengine project identified and assessed problems with process flow and scheduling that created a growing backlog that was straining customer relationships. Walco created, with the help of a consultant, new work cells and a streamlined process. Management identified new leaders on the shop floor including one who has brought order to the scheduling process. The project will save the company $40,000 - a 3:1 return on the initial $12,800 investment by STEAMengine.
Success Metric: Creation of new company
A composite company, Clear Carbon & Components (C3) has historically worked on boats and built and sold highly sought-after Chellos. Clear Carbon participated in the year-long Design Catalyst Program where it developed a "new company" within it. Clear Carbon
Interiors builds composite-based outdoor furniture such as chairs and tables for back-yard decks and boats. The products are sleek, arresting designs that blend manufacturing practices with design thinking and applications. It is a product-based company, vital to growing the future of the RI economy.