The HP Innovation Summit is a fascinating annual event for me because unlike most vendor events, this isn’t about speeds or products as much as it is about what people do with these products. This is how people buy products. They don’t buy because of a specification. They buy because they have a need, and short of a trial, the only way to know whether a product will fill a need is to see the product successfully implemented by someone else. But what also makes this event interesting is that this isn’t about people doing traditional things with traditional products; this is largely about people using these products to open up new markets, explore new opportunities and creatively improve their competitive position.
The event I was at was held in Barcelona, Spain, which is an amazing location that, as you drive through it, represents a blend of ancient styles and contemporary designs all working together. That is at the core of this event because few of us can afford to replace our infrastructure entirely regularly. We must blend the old with the new to meet changing needs and objectives. This event, to a large extent, highlights that.
A number of interesting stories were shared at the event, ranging from filmmakers like DreamWorks to home improvement companies like Kingfisher. And the innovations presented range from what can be done today to anticipating what is possible tomorrow. There is even a bit of the past as they pulled the garage where the HP company was founded in Palo Alto and rebuilt it here. One of the nice things about HP is that it is are very focused compared to its competitors at similar scale and this allows it to spend far more time and effort on the businesses it has, and certainly helped it establish market leadership in the PC and printer market, including 3D printers.
Kingfisher: Sustainability as a Competitive Edge
Kingfisher is a holding company that owns a home improvement company, serves around 6M customers, and believes in using that scale for good. On stage was Caroline Laurie, the firm’s head of sustainability, and she had a number of interesting thoughts to share. Kingfisher is going through a major transition and wants to make home improvement available for all. It wants homes that connect people to nature, that are clean, safe and toxin free The wake-up call for the business was a call years ago in which a journalist asked where their wood came from. The journalist concluded that if the firm didn’t know, it didn’t care. This resulted in a fundamental change in the company and now it knows and cares where its materials come from and aggressively invests in certified sustainability efforts. It assures its paint and materials are toxin free.
The goal is to have, by 2020, 50 percent of the products help create a more sustainable home. The company claims that it is saving 50K gallons of gas simply by buying from HP and it knows by using HP that its used-up products are recycled. And using HP’s managed print solutions, it is saving significantly in terms of resources. This lowers the energy footprint and the ecological footprint. The company is aggressively moving from take-make-dispose to a circular economy, where resources are constantly recycled, vastly reducing the effort’s ecological footprint. The company was on a 10-year journey to find vendors that share the view that a part of a firm’s core goals should be helping create a better world and this effort is what drew it to HP.
Part of the problem in the industry, according to Laurie, is that too many companies don’t walk their ecological talk. The industry needs to move to more transparency and focus more on impact than rhetoric and Kingfisher is aggressively walking that talk. This drives it down a path of innovation because it also needs to be competitive. It has discovered that sustainability lowers costs and attracts likeminded customers to it so there are top and bottom-line advantages. The company is seeing strong sales growth as a result of this focus.
DreamWorks is a massive animation shop created as a place where artists and filmmakers could collaborate and imagine amazing worlds. It wants to create shared experiences that families can enjoy together. We are surrounded by visually rich, visually stimulating content. Even many of the live action TV shows like Game of Thrones, and movies, like the Avengers, are largely animated today. The films run at 90 minutes for 91K frames and each one goes through four processes, and each of those four processes has 12 elements. One film is 500K digital files. The company is in simultaneous production in up to 10 films at a time, or 5B files, and every animator can access any of these at any time, all managed.
Technology is the core element of everything the company does. In How to Train Your Dragon, it had a few thousand dragons; the latest had 60K dragons and it was cheaper to create thanks to technology. Every artist works on a high-end HP workstation and they aren’t under resourced to ensure no idea is left behind. Every display is color calibrated. This resulted from a collaboration with HP which ended in the Dream Color display. HP got an Oscar for this and its efforts with the film industry. The company is a heavy user of printers, with 6K color prints per month for things like story boards, and everything must be color correct but cost effective. HP reduced the number of printers in DreamWorks based on managed usage models. No user even noticed that the printers were reduced because those removed weren’t used much. HP also was able to make every printer compliant with DreamWorks policy.
How does making better movies make the world a better place? Well, DreamWorks focuses on movies that draw families together and in a world of personal devices that isolate us, any effort to bring families together, I think, makes the world a better place.
Glaze Prosthetics and Zigzag: 3D Printing
After the general session, we had a number of break outs. One of the most interesting was on 3D printing, and the two companies in the room were Glaze Prosthetics and Zigzag. Zigzag has nine of HP’s 3D printers and turns out something like 75K parts a month in a 15-person company (four people run the printers). It is basically a little factory and one of the most interesting parts it makes is for older BMWs that need a stronger intake for racing (the stock intake can’t take the vibration and the 3D printed Zigzag unit is higher performing, stronger and cheaper than the original unit). These are production-level parts that would cost thousands more if they used legacy production methods and likely require far larger companies to produce. If racers, Restomod builders and even car restoration specialists knew what this company could do, I think they’d be overwhelmed with orders. This is amazing stuff. But the reason this makes the world a better place is that their parts can be used to keep aging things working, reducing waste and increasing reuse of equipment and automobiles.
Glaze Prosthetics was able to use HP’s 3D printers to massively reduce the cost of prosthetic arms while also making them more useful. Apparently, existing arms cost upwards of $100K and are so heavy and uncomfortable that people just don’t wear them. The Glaze units are far lighter, far cheaper, and are worn daily by those who need them. The old rule of better, faster, cheaper, pick any two, is broken here because these are better, faster and cheaper. This is one of the best examples of how 3D printing is changing manufacturing dramatically in very meaningful ways.
Wrapping Up: Changing Reality Makes Positive Outcomes for All More Realistic
If you follow me, you know I’m a big believer in making the world a better place and that was a huge part of the HP Innovation Summit this year. From creating home environments that are more sustainable and better for you, to creating more and better ways to spend our free time (like better movies), to lower cost better parts, and finally prosthetics that are better and cheaper than their alternatives, I was impressed with how HP’s customers, and HP, are working to make the world a better place.
We live in a hostile world and often it seems firms are making it more hostile; it is always nice to see a group of companies working to make the world a better place. But the strongest of the messages was likely from Kingfisher, which highlighted that being green could also be more profitable. We often seem to think that you have to trade one off for the other and the company demonstrated that, increasingly, thanks to technology, you don’t anymore. Global warming may be a hard sell, but making more money to achieve the same benefits -- that’s pretty easy.