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From the idea to the order number

Being innovative in order to remain competitive for the future – that is of decisive importance for companies. Many factors are important, however, for an idea to become a genuine innovation. About the innovation process at KUKA and why we are already thinking about tomorrow today.

Romy Schoenwetter
23 March 2023
Reading Time: 3 min.

They can be groundbreaking, solve problems and, above all, are hard work: innovations rarely come about overnight. Rather, they are the sum of many small but constant changes. “Innovation is like a kind of life insurance for any company,” says Dr. Ulrike Tagscherer, Chief Innovation Officer at KUKA. “No company is protected against being disrupted from the outside. Nokia’s cell phones, Kodak’s analog camera – no product lives forever. Today is important. But it is also important to use some resources to address the question: What’s next?” 

A process, not an event

Successful companies generally invest the greater part of their research budgets in innovations for their ongoing business. At the same time, they spend a significant portion (30 to 50 percent) of their R&D budget on exploring new products, solutions, services and business models. And what about us? In order to secure the future, KUKA has set up an extremely streamlined innovation process: “We first test ideas with customers before embarking on development work or investing heavily in the ideas,” Tagscherer explains.

Ulrike Tagscherer, Chief Innovation Officer at KUKA

An innovation project consists of three phases. In the first three months, the proposed solution is initially tested with customers to ascertain whether it is really useful and wanted (“discovery”). If this test is positive, the teams are given a further six months to check feasibility and determine whether they can set up a profitable business. At the end of the validation, in phase 2, management decides whether it is to be made into a new business area. If so, it goes into the acceleration phase, including the implementation of paid pilot projects. Only at the very end of this process does series development take over

Ready for series production 

Therefore, for an idea to become an innovation, at least three things have to come together: a problem, understanding of customer requirements, and dedicated problem solvers. Just like the people who have come together in the “Mixed Reality” team. This is the first project at KUKA to go into series production in conjunction with the KUKA Innovation Challenge.

Mixed Reality is an idea from the KUKA Innovation Challenge. Now it is part of the product portfolio. Here, KUKA CEO Peter Mohnen moves the demonstrator.
Mixed Reality is an idea from the Innovation Challenge. Now it is part of the product portfolio. Here, CEO Peter Mohnen moves the demonstrator.

Mixed reality is about superimposing data required by the robot, such as the coordinate system, spaces and paths, onto the real environment – using an app or mixed reality glasses, for example. In this way, for instance, a start-up technician can see where the workspaces and protected spaces of a robot are located and check the configuration more quickly. This enables time savings of between 20 and 30 percent, particularly for inexperienced users, and reduces the risk of making mistakes.

The key is diversity

The first products are now being delivered to customers. The Mixed Reality project also shows: Innovations are rarely created in the minds of individuals. Rather, people with a wide variety of skills must work together to solve a concrete problem. “The key is diversity,” Tagscherer concludes. “That’s why we need everyone at KUKA to help drive innovation.” 

Mixed Reality header with Innovation Lab

From the idea to the product of tomorrow

Innovation Management at KUKA

About the author
Romy Schoenwetter
Manager Corporate Communications
More about Romy Schoenwetter
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