March 22, 2016 | Engineering + Technology

innovation lightbulbs

As a product manager, I know that improving existing products is like walking a tightrope. On one side, we need to continually add value to the products we create to make them more attractive to some customers. On the other side, we must ensure that the changes we make will not create issues for existing customers who are more interested in operating a wind farm than evaluating every new innovative product that comes out. This creates a constant tension between innovating to improve performance and maintaining product continuity.

For many of our customers, even changes that improve performance can cause additional work: evaluating the risk and reward of the transition, setting up new part numbers in ERP systems, training staff on new functionality…The list can be long. The cost of all the activities that must be borne by the customer are very seriously considered. For this reason, we are very deliberate when we decide to make changes.

A great example of this process is the improvement we recently made to our Hybrid XT line of sensors. Based on customer feedback and an industry trend toward lower-speed wind sites, we decided to improve the threshold of the anemometer.

To avoid the risk of introducing unintended reliability issues, the development team limited the scope of changes to include the head only. All other parts were kept the same. We also required that the new sensor be a form, fit, and functional replacement of the current sensor so that customers would get consistent performance across their Hybrid XT fleet. This included keeping the same transfer function (sensor output to wind speed) for the sensor, as well as minimizing any changes in dynamic performance, such as distance constant.

After many rapid prototypes and verification hours in the tunnel, we created a design that we hope walks the tightrope for customers. Innovation does not necessarily mean a surprising, conversation-sparking new product. Sometimes it means careful improvements, mindfully implemented with customers’ best interests in mind.