To your question about whether 3D printing introduces process efficiencies for Safilo or harms its luxury brand identity, I think the answer is ultimately dependent on who the company’s target customer is. I’d argue that 3D printing seems much more well-suited for a company like Warby Parker whose customers appreciate low cost and the flexibility to customize frames online. For a company like Safilo, their brand equity comes from the Italian history and emphasis on craftsmanship. In their case, the process efficiencies of 3D printing may be outweighed by the negative impact to Safilo’s brand, especially if Safilo’s customers are willing to a pay a premium for a luxury product. You raise an interesting point that adopting technological innovations can have spillover effects, and as managers, we need to be aware that both our products and processes need to have a consistent message.
This is a well-written piece that illustrates the tension a company struggles with when it tries to break old habits in order to adapt and stay competitive. I worked at a start-up that was acquired by a large corporation, and the impact to our culture was incredibly palpable. Despite its attempts to adopt the practices of a nimble start-up, our parent company was slowed down by its many layers of bureaucracy and legacy business practices. It was akin to trying to steer the Titanic. While I give Unilever a lot of credit for experimenting with methods of innovative product development, I think this grassroots approach will have little impact. I agree with your recommendation that, in order for this strategy to have real legs, Unilever must make some bold, top-down organization changes like changing up their core business models.
In addition to the labor inefficiencies that this application of machine learning resolves, MAX’s ability to preempt elevator breakdowns transforms safety management from being reactive to proactive. You raise an interesting point about the potential to quantify safety impact — This technology has the ability to reduce several types of cost: 1) The monetary cost of repairing a broken elevator which is much greater than replacing an aging part, 2) The costs associated with human injury from a broken elevator accident, and 3) The reputational costs a company suffers if people are hurt in their elevators. I see many parallels between this application of machine learning and the use of AI to detect medical issues before they become dangerous. Both applications allows us to take a more proactive approach to diagnosis and reduce costs.
It is surprising that Xiaomi would rely on open innovation to develop their products given that “the company had no brand or reputation”. In stark contrast to Xiaomi, Apple explicitly refuses to solicit customer feedback for product design, opting instead to dictate what users want. Apple’s brand and reputation were founded on Steve Jobs’s unwillingness to cater to the masses and his decision to set trends in a top-down manner. I am doubtful that Xiaomi’s decision to crowd-source their product development strategy can translate into any sort of consistent brand or reputation. While open innovation may allow Xiaomi to develop products quickly, I wonder if this method of design results in a muddled company vision and strategy. I also imagine that this may contribute to a lack of cohesion when it comes to marketing Xiaomi’s products.
This is a strange application of 3D printing, and the cynical part of me wants to argue that it’s more of a PR stunt than a process improvement. For a product like potato chips, so much of the value comes from taste, texture, and packaging, none of which can be reproduced with a 3D printed prototype. The prototype chip only serves as a proxy for the final product’s shape, so I’m skeptical of the marginal benefit this achieves over a 2D rendering. Other industries like manufacturing or technology rely on 3D printing because their product development cycles need to be short in order to stay ahead of the competition and because the finished product is much more costly to produce than the prototype. Neither of these ring true for potato chips. I wonder if the investment in 3D printing is more of a strategic move for PepsiCo to jump on the bandwagon of buzz-worthy trends.
This post reminded me of our Gap case where the company experimented with using big data to predict trends in consumer taste and shorten the cycle for developing new clothing items. One of the major concerns we raised is that the result could be a regurgitation of ideas that already exist in the market and a convergence toward the lowest common denominator. For industries like fashion and food, the trailblazers are the ones that set the trends and introduce products that customers have never seen before. I question how innovative El Bulli can be if they are riding the coattails of fads that have already peaked.