December 29, 2010

Community innovation in solar manufacturing

As an open innovation researcher, I sometimes get invited to lecture at high-tech (or low-tech) companies on how the principles of open innovation can be used to improve the efficiency and efficacy of innovation. This draws both on my own published research and the reporting I do for the Open Innovation Blog.

Earlier this month I spoke at a one-day seminar on open innovation in solar manufacturing, held at the gorgeous Fairmont Hotel at the top of Nob Hill in San Francisco. Our hosts were Festo AG, a German process automation company that sells key technologies to PV manufacturing lines (among many others). Since Festo has issued a press release and other outlets have mentioned my role, I thought I’d comment on the event.

The Festo Engineering Network ( is a free online community intended to spur idea generation and sharing among Festo’s direct customers — those that make solar manufacturing equipment — and its indirect customers (PV manufacturers themselves).

One of the ways that they’re doing this by issuing challenges — in other words, crowdsourcing. They also hope to create a sense of community by attracting the right people and have them network and share ideas.

My opening talk on open innovation was fun because I tried to do it Larry Lessig style. (When you are an academic standing between a room full of industry people and their dinner, use all means possible to engage them.) The slides are posted on FEN but I don’t know that they’ll mean much without the audio.

The real value for attendees came from the expert participants from the solar industry. I understood my role as an academic — to stimulate discussion and to get people to think beyond their current way of doing things.

Like any community, building up the FEN will take time. I believe Festo is pointed in the right direction, but we’ll see how quickly it goes.

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