It is exciting to be in an industry where innovation seems like it’s a baseline expectation. I was in the cutting tool industry at a time when, although innovation still occurred, stability and incremental improvements were more the expectation. Most innovation was the result of slight tweaks, new uses of existing coatings, and finding different approaches were enabling manufacturers to improve their key metrics. And when big innovations did occur, it was a time for industry-wide celebration and recognition.
Of course, when innovation occurs at a rapid pace, you can almost become immune to its relevance. While it is inspiring that the photonics community can maintain the current innovation pace, establishing a sense of immunity to innovation is a dangerous thing. It can quickly erode the perceived value of continued improvement.
This is why gauging the role of innovation was a key component of the first annual Laser Focus World State of the Market survey. And when asked, photonics manufacturers identified innovation as the most important quality enabling their organizations to compete long term, with 88% noting it as either extremely or very important. Knowing the energy level in the community, I was not surprised by this number. So it should not be a surprise to anyone that when asked about barriers to innovation, 21% said nothing is holding them back. Obviously, difficulties finding enough talent, budget limitations, and economic uncertainty were the top three barriers.
The key takeaway here? There is no current concern about manufacturers within the photonics community experiencing innovation immunity. Unfortunately, there is some concern about innovation immunity on the buyer side where innovation, although still quite important, was not rated as highly. In contrast to the high value placed on innovation by photonics manufacturers, only 54% rated photonics innovation as either extremely or very important. Note innovation still surfaces as the most important quality for buyers, but the 34% difference is undeniably noteworthy and something we as an industry need to pay close attention to going forward.
As such, it is crucial to find ways to make sure people using photonics-based products know about and understand the significance of the continued innovation taking place within the industry. This is also the driving force behind Laser Focus World’s Innovators Awards, where an independent panel of judges reviews all the submissions and rates the level of innovation. If you are a manufacturer within the photonics community, I highly encourage you to submit your latest innovation. With so much industry activity occurring constantly, gaining outside recognition can prove instrumental in setting your offering apart from the competition.