Process Innovation

By Martin Gilliard

Process innovation can be just as important as product innovation. We are all aware of everyday product innovations such as those in the latest flat screen televisions, computer displays or cell phones.

Often we are not so aware of the innovations to processes that take place in order to reduce the unit production costs of such products.

process innovation

(Photo Credit Rodrigo Carvalho)

Innovations of this nature often use such techniques as business process reengineering or lean based tools to analyze a process and reduce the number of steps by removing any redundant, repetitive or simply wasteful process steps.

It is about applying knowledge and thinking to create services with new processes.

Process innovations can be classified as radical when they deliver significant differences to existing processes.


Traditionally glass making went through a number of steps…

  1. Furnace: melting of the raw material ingredients
  2. Casting: the glass in a mold
  3. Hardening: the glass in a special oven
  4. Grinding and polishing: the glass using various grades of abrasives

Pilkington glass in the 1960's revolutionized this process by combining all of the steps into a single process known as the "float glass process" in which raw materials were fed into a furnace at one end and then a continuous strip of molten glass would be fed into the oven for hardening. This float process eliminated the need to grind and polish the glass and in turn gave Pilkington a major competitive advantage in the glass making process for many years.

An innovative process often needs to precede an innovative product in order for a product to be manufactured at a price that the market will accept.


Katz R (2009) The Innovators Toolkit - 10 Practical Strategies to Help You Develop and Implement Innovation, Boston, Harvard Business School Publishing

Carlo, J, Lyytinen, K, & Rose, G (2012), 'A Knowledge-based model of radical innovation in small software firms', MIS Quarterly, 36, 3, pp. 865-A10

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