Cross industry learning, the transfer of technologies across industry boundaries, can revolutionize technology landscapes. We will illustrate the advantages of cross industry learning with a case study.
With the disappearance of the printed word (yes, you too are probably reading this on the web), you might think all hope was lost for the humble inkjet cartridge. It seems inevitable that all technologies know a period of success, but are then made irrelevant by others. How can a technology survive its inevitable decline? And how can you, when you are active in a given domain stay ahead of others? The answer to both questions can be provided by cross industry learning.Cross industry learning allows you to stay ahead of competitors by implementing the learnings from other industry domains and also allows you to survive by using your existing technological portfolio to enter new markets.
Let’s have a look at the inkjet cartridge. Developed in the 80’s in parallel by Canon and Hewlett-Packard, it was the result of the stubborn belief of a group of dedicated engineers in need of a non-impact, high quality color-printing technique. The cooperation between Canon and HP made the inkjet cartridge into a performant technology, unrivaled for the printing of high quality color images. However, the shrinking of the printed word market seemed to be the beginning of the end for the inkjet cartridge. As it turns out nothing could be further from the truth. Inkjet printing technology has merely shifted from its initial application domain – books and newspapers – to new domains.
Other industries are picking up the learnings from inkjet printing and implementing the technology for their own purposes. Here are 4 examples:
1. 3D printing
Several 3D printers are built upon the inkjet printing technique. Instead of depositing layers of ink, layers of molten plastic are deposited by the cartridges in 3 dimensions. Many of the printing giants, such as Hewlett-Packard, have started new departments focused on the development of their own 3D printers. Inevitably, they will recycle the internal knowledge they have gathered in years of inkjet development.
Instead of filling up cartridges with inks, scientists have been filling them up with living cells. This allows them to create 3 dimensional patterns of cells, and so essentially, tissues, and ultimately organs. The initial tests by some of the pioneers of bioprinting like Organovo, were actually carried out on a conventional Lexmark inkjet printer. It turned out the printer’s standard inkjet nozzles were the ideal size for printing human cells. Unintentionally, the printing companies had made a machine that fulfilled many of the requirements of bioprinting and so they have contributed indirectly to the development of this new technology.
3. Printed electronics
Another variation of the inkjet cartridge has been to use conductive inks instead of regular inks to manufacture flexible electronics such as solar cells. Inkjet cartridges are under investigation in various locations as a low cost low tech method to manufacture solar cell electrodes.
A last variation of inkjet printing is its use in food. Initially, 2D inkjet printing on food surfaces was used to create decorative patterns or to print text, such as origin & date info on eggs. The next step has been 3D inkjet food printing, to create whole foodstuffs based on liquefied foods. What originally seemed an amusing garage technology, is now being taken further into serious development, especially with the aim to create foods for people with swallowing problems.
So one technology – inkjet cartridges -, originally developed for a single application -printing on paper-, has evolved into multiple new market segments. By learning from the development of the original inkjet cartridges and transferring this knowledge to 4 new domains – manufacturing, medicine, electronics & food – new innovations are being developed.
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