For many years, International Business Machines Corp. (IBM, Armonk, NY) has been synonymous with the word “innovation.” In 2007, the company was issued more U.S. patents than any other company for the 15th consecutive year. In addition, IBM always ranks high in the annual survey of the world’s most innovative companies that’s conducted by the Boston Consulting Group (Boston).
The company prides itself on innovation. In fact, the streets within IBM’s 500-acre campus in Poughkeepsie, NY, have names such as Assembly Ave. and Innovation Way.
At IBM, innovation means more than just inventing innovative products and solutions. The company strives to create an environment where its employees can bring innovation to bear on every aspect of their jobs. In addition, IBMers help their customers leverage innovation to create new business processes and models to help them differentiate themselves from their competition.
“One of IBM’s core values is ‘Innovation that matters- for our company and for the world,’” says Jim King, manager of IBM’s High-End Server Plant in Poughkeepsie, NY, which is the recipient of the 2008 Assembly Plant of the Year award sponsored by ASSEMBLY magazine. “This is a major reason why we strive to constantly search for methods to excel in this area. Poughkeepsie has always maintained a strong reputation for innovation, not only as it relates to the role it plays in the development of technology, but also through the innovative spirit of the people.”
Whenever assemblers enter the factory, they’re reminded to be innovative on the plant floor. A brick above the main door is inscribed with the word “THINK,” which has long been Big Blue’s slogan for innovation. It was coined by Thomas Watson Sr., the legendary founder of IBM, and has been in use since 1915.
Today, that innovation spirit is alive and well in Poughkeepsie. For instance, IBM engineers designed the new Power 575 system with water-chilled copper plates that are located above each microprocessor to remove heat from the electronics. By requiring 80 percent fewer air conditioning units, the computer can reduce typical energy consumption used to cool a data center by 40 percent.
The engineers estimate that water can be up to 4,000 times more effective in cooling computer systems than air. They’re currently working on the next step: getting water even close to the chip-not with a copper plate, but actually inside the chip. The goal is to capture the water at its hottest and then pump it out of the computer for reuse in heating a building or for hot water.
At the Poughkeepsie plant, several internal programs help foster an innovative environment, such as the Advanced Manufacturing Sciences (AMS) initiative. “The AMS initiative is an innovative approach to cultural transformation, as well as proactively driving process changes that result in efficiency gains,” says King.
“This is a novel approach in that we’re investing in the employee population by providing lean training, leadership development, and a constructive management framework where people realize that their ideas regarding product and process improvements can be taken from concept to reality through a structured approach,” adds King. “This analysis consists of value stream mapping, kaizen events, and simulation skills where processes can be analyzed for potential areas that can be improved.”
Another initiative that helps Poughkeepsie be postured in a more innovative fashion is the Green Sigma program. “This initiative has collective buy-in and participation of the entire organization as it relates to reuse-recycle and energy savings,” King points out. “We are also leveraging simulation to analyze energy usage through our power requirements in the test environment. Other work in this area involves characterizing the carbon footprint of the end-to-end integrated supply chain, starting specifically with our manufacturing processes and following the upstream processes.”
The 2008 Assembly Plant of the Year also offers employees the Innovation Council at Poughkeepsie (ICaP). This team is sponsored by the plant manager, an executive steering committee and a program manager. It is made up a patent team, an intellectual property teams, an external conference team and a Think Place team, which includes idea and suggestion boxes.
“This provides an avenue for employees to become involved and brainstorm with colleagues, senior technical staff members, IBM research, and universities to discuss leading-edge techniques and novel approaches associated with the high-end server manufacturing processes,” says King. “This has resulted in many ideas being harvested. It translates not only into financial benefits, but also a feeling of pride and self-actualization with the employees involved.”