This was the question I had when briefed by Cooper Standard an automotive parts company that is currently growing about 1.5x the automotive parts industry due to its innovative processes and products. They make automotive weather-stripping, hoses and metal fuel lines for cars (and industrial equipment). But one of the innovative parts is they don’t use Rubber, they use a rubber like substance that doesn’t degrade with age and is protected against rubbing sourced hose failure naturally.
But it is their innovation process that causes them to stand out. Let me explain.
The 3 Steps Of Innovation
The first step is coming up with the initial idea. They call this step “Imagine” and here an employee presents an idea that pertains to current existing products. It could have to do with how the product is designed, manufactured, what materials are used, or the other processes that surround it. All focus on the firm’s core solutions in fluid transfer, sealing and trim, fuel and brake line delivery, and anti-vibrations offerings.
They’ve implemented a simple on-line form to submit the idea and this is tied to the second step called “Initiate”. This form then flows to Cooper Standard’s Global Technology Council who reviews the idea and either accepts or rejects it.
If the idea is approved, it then moves to the final phase which is called “Innovate”. Once approved it moves directly into product development where it is refined and the idea remains there until it is implemented.
Ideas can be submitted by employees or partners and whoever submits the idea gets to husband it through the process if it is approved and they may also be asked to provide background with the approval process.
The result of his process has been significant advancement in material content and design creating a line of products that resist aging, leaking, and degradation for near the same price as traditional rubber hoses.
My hobby is working on cars and one of the big problems with older cars and show cars is that the rubber bits degrade and either look bad or fail, often both. Cooper Standard products evidently avoid these problems at a fraction of the cost of Silicon Hoses which I’ve been trying to use exclusively because they have similar attributes but are wicked expensive. (They also often don’t seal very well because the material is relatively stiff.
Having a product that performed well, cost less, and still had the needed longevity of Silicon is a game changer for traditional and particularly important for restored but rarely driven cars. Unfortunately, their after-market presence is relatively small but I hope that changes in the future because I could use a better alternative to rubber than Silicon at the moment.
Still this showcases that if innovation can be applied to things like hoses and weather stripping with great success it can be applied everyplace.
Companies like Apple which were once defined by their innovative new products are finding innovation elusive at the moment. But if a company that specializes in hoses and weather stripping can find a process that allows them to innovate tech firms should be able to use a similar process to foster their own innovation.
So the lesson here is that anyone can innovate, you just need a process that works as a forcing function. Cooper Standard’s process is both simple and it is effective given their market leading growth. That might be a great place to start. Now my only hope is that it eventually results in parts I can use in my own hobby.