Market-driven innovation has been on my mind often since the new year began. Uncertainty seems to reign worldwide in the wind industry in 2012, and it is comforting to be able to focus on something more directly within my own sphere of control — opportunity creation.
In the U.S., there are warnings of project freezes and layoffs if the PTC is not extended beyond 2012. In Europe, the debt crisis still looms. And in China, the previously booming economy is showing the first signs of softening. The mood in the wind industry is decidedly down worldwide. Positive optimist that I am, I prefer to avoid collective whining without ignoring the hard, cold facts.
How does a manufacturer of renewable energy measurement equipment improve productivity and market strength when most of the industry is in decline due to policy and economic pressures?
Market-Driven Innovation (MDI)
MDI, or looking to your market as strategic source of ideas for innovation, is not a new idea and large companies like DuPont and 3M have been well-known practitioners for a long time. Yet at a small, values-based company like NRG Systems with a legacy grounded in lean manufacturing, moving toward this strategic approach sometimes feels revolutionary.
We all understand intellectually that companies, products and methods are constantly being replaced by more effective alternatives. (Economist Joseph Schumpeter famously described this as a process of creative destruction.) But exactly how do you keep ahead of this process consistently? Designing, managing and implementing your innovation process to meet (or anticipate) the needs and desires of your key markets can be easier said than done.
At NRG Systems, we are using a cross-functional team approach where marketing, engineering and sales all contribute to identifying customer needs in the market and are therefore aligned with a strategy before we examine the options for developing a particular innovation and managing and implementing its introduction. This separation of customer needs and desires from our existing product solutions has freed us to explore opportunities we might not have considered in earlier years.
Here’s a quick look at the results in the form of some of the new choices available to our customers now or in the near future.
New Product Choices
- Hybrid XT, Classic and Ultrasonic turbine control sensors
Now we have turbine control solutions for every size turbine, in any climate, both onshore and off. After all — wind is everywhere. You can decide which technology you prefer to match your needs, or combine them as many often do. And as more and more turbines come off of their warranty, we are seeing many owners and operators upgrade their control sensors to these newer, longer lasting ones.
- Solar Resource Assessment System
We were seeing more and more of our customers turn to solar to complement their portfolios of wind. In fact many are co-locating the two technologies. Just as with wind power, the market has a need to measure the solar resource and then monitor the subsequent performance of the generation facility over time.
- Lattice tower
NRG Systems pioneered the development of the tubular tilt-up tower for the wind industry, but as wonderfully simple as this technology is, it does have its limits. And as harsher and more remote areas were being explored and developed the need for taller and extremely durable met masts increased. NRG Systems did not pioneer the lattice tower, but we do know a good tower design when we see one. Our friends at Oenko, a small and innovative tower manufacturer in Canada, had just what we were looking for. We purchased the company and now you can have exactly what you need designed and produced for any site anywhere on the planet. Standardized complete measurement systems similar to our tubular Symphonie NOW Systems will be available this summer.
Before summer arrives NRG Systems will be introducing three additional new products, each an innovation inspired by the present or future needs of the renewable energy market. But that’s the subject for a future blog post….