Developing smarter and safer connectivity and sensor solutions is only possible in a culture that challenges and ignites the curiosity of engineers.
At TE, our leaders inspire our engineers to imagine and develop new ideas that will change the future of connectivity. Driving this inspiration is our series of internal, enterprise-wide engineer-development initiatives, which include conferences, challenges, competitions, collaboration, and talent development. Through these initiatives, TE engineers are exposed to new ideas and challenged to strengthen their problem-solving skills, meet colleagues from other disciplines, and collaborate across teams around the world – often virtually! These initiatives often lead to concepts that can mature into go-to-market solutions that enable our customers to innovate and accelerate their capacity to advance the connected future. Like professionals in other fields, our engineers must balance their time between developing and testing new concepts and keeping pace with new technology – all while simultaneously partnering with customers to co-innovate practical solutions that advance their business strategies.
The Challenge to Innovate
Our primary internal vehicle for inspiring innovation is TEchCon. This is our annual technical conference that for four days brings together members of our global engineering community – engineers, scientists, technologists and business leaders. During this engaging gathering, attendees gain insight into the latest advancements in their areas of focus, as well as the innovation happening across the company. They share ideas about best practices, new products, and unique technology solutions for customer challenges. Initiated under TE's former Chief Technology Officer (retired) Rob Shaddock, now a TE Special Advisor, TEchCon includes more than 125 offerings including technical presentations, interactive technology displays, and an annual innovation awards ceremony. In addition to meeting and collaborating with hundreds of TE technical colleagues from around the world, attendees attend sessions designed to strengthen technical knowledge and provoke engineering innovation. The impact is transformational. “Innovation is a team sport… [and it’s] everybody’s job,” says Mr. Shaddock. “As innovators, we have to be curious, we have to persevere, we have to experiment, we have to have opinions about the future, and we have to measure our innovation to ensure it is generating a return.”
Innovation through Competition
Each day, across the enterprise, our engineers are challenged to excel. One key tactic is the TE INNOVATER Game. Now in its fourth year, this annual online ideation competition gives engineers the chance to showcase their unique knowledge and expertise by sharing or refining innovative ideas that can potentially be developed into new TE business opportunities or savings. Participants submit ideas including a description, supporting diagrams and/or videos, and benefits of their new product or improved process. Participants can also review, comment, and vote on the others’ ideas to help them advance in the Game. Ideas that advance to expert jury review are evaluated by a jury of TE engineering leaders who select the top ideas that will be ranked by an executive innovation board. The winning ideas are selected based on the quality of their innovation and potential to either generate new revenue streams or reduce operating costs, then become part of TE internal incubator program with seed funding for development. Through these kinds of competitions, our leadership has established a culture of open innovation and collaboration throughout our global engineering community. For example, these competitions encourage our engineers to crowdsource ideas – for inspiration and generation, as well as validation and progression – and share knowledge across functions, locations, and areas of focus, such as product lines and industries. Through crowdsourcing, our engineers can expand their initial ideas into solutions that have a broader and deeper resonance – for engineering and for business strategy.
Competitions Accelerate Progress
Another TE competition is RoboCup. This unique initiative brings together our engineers – worldwide, from across the enterprise – to build flexible, robot-based machines that can be used in TE plants. The goal is to develop robotic solutions that can perform difficult tasks with precision while enabling TE teams to improve production processes, efficiencies, and safety. This competition is designed to teach and encourage teams to build flexible, robot-based machines for use in our TE plants around the world. It is not only a fun competition, but also a productive one, as it generates some very creative ideas using vision guided robots that improve our production processes and provide significant returns on our investment. Furthermore, being involved with RoboCup provides career development resources as our Advanced Manufacturing Technology team conducts robotics training courses for the participating team members along with providing each team a common robot platform for their competition entry. These courses train our engineers in working with new applications such as collaborative robotics. This enables our engineers to test these robots firsthand with real, on-the-job tasks to determine how they will perform and which safety standards may be needed. "The goal of the competition is to positively impact flexibility and productivity of manufacturing through the promotion and development of collaborative robots," explains TE Connectivity Chief Executive Officer Terrence Curtin. "Intelligent usage of these robots can result in improved lead times, delivery, and quality, overall promoting an extraordinary customer experience."
Three years ago when TE first started this initiative, RoboCup consisted of 12 teams from only our China plants. By the following year, the competition grew to include 20 teams from 6 business units from around the world. We are proud to say that presently 70% of the RoboCup machines are now installed and operating in TE plants, and the remaining are being configured for introduction into plants by the end of 2016! In total, the two previous competitions have included 25 plants, 9 business units, and 160 participants and have been so impactful to TE that we are continuing this global initiative to build vision-guided robots for production use in our plants. During pre-competition training courses, the teams learn how to program robots and create their machines – skills that they can then bring back to their work and implement to help improve and automate TE’s manufacturing processes.
Education and application are at the core of all TE competitions. For example, IgniTE – a competition based on the global Ignite Talks – challenges TE engineers to develop new communication skills while educating others. Participants must present complex technical information with concision, clarity, and simplicity – with 20 slides, auto-advanced every 15 seconds, for a 5-minute presentation. The experience helps engineers learn how to build and tell stories that get noticed, while piquing the interest of the viewers to want to learn more. Another example, a Raspberry Pi Bake-off, provided nearly 250 Raspberry Pi kits to engineer requestors around the world. This small credit-credit card sized computer plugs into your monitor and a keyboard and can be used to do many of the things that a desktop or tablet computer can do. The Bake-off challenged engineers to tinker and create something innovative with this single-board computer whether it be work-related (in the areas of design, manufacturing, research and development, or corporate social responsibility) or real-world applications. Participant’s submitted videos and documentation for their Raspberry Pi inventions and a panel of TE and external judges then reviewed them – using criteria including project innovation, success, financial impact, and documentation – to help determine our final 7 winners.
“The number one benefit to participating is how these initiatives unleash the innovative spirit of our engineers,” says Mark Gutman, TE senior manager for Manufacturing Development Engineering. Also an organizer of RoboCup within the Industrial engineering team, Gutman notes that “competitions remove traditional roadblocks that would otherwise stifle innovation at the engineering level, such as business and financial justifications, and allow us to focus on engineering a solution to a problem. Initiatives like this show that TE’s leadership is willing to support, sponsor, and make time for innovative ideas and allow our engineers to be engineers--discovering creative ways of incorporating new technology into existing products.” For participants, there is a strong focus on learning about the technology, the benefits of applying the technology, and the value that the technology can yield – for TE as well as our customers. They spur conversations across our global engineering community, with a focus on how we as a company can incorporate this technology into our new products and how we can minimize the amount of effort required to incorporate the next generation of technology into our products over time. This knowledge enables our engineers to improve internal production processes, efficiencies, and safety, which subsequently improves our solutions to customer applications.
Celebrating the Spirit of Engineering
Like innovation, talent is something to be nurtured, cultivated, and celebrated. Our Engineering Academy offers our engineers a comprehensive approach to the continuing, long-term development of their talent. The Academy team oversees a body of knowledge (BoK) matrix and develops a curriculum for onboarding new engineers. The goal is to standardize concepts, practices, and processes across all engineering teams. This enables our engineers to more easily collaborate as they work together to advance enterprise excellence in operations and engineering.
Through our internal collaboration and innovation initiatives, our engineers have many opportunities to connect with peers, crowdsource new ideas, network across the enterprise, and build their knowledge – from design to operations. Across TE, these initiatives strengthen the dynamics of a culture committed to engineering rigor and best-practice sharing. Through these efforts, we can advance the continuous improvement of our seasoned engineering talent and inspire our new engineers – and even students, who are the future generation of TE innovators, through STEM-related efforts. By promoting curiosity and creativity worldwide across our company, we affirm that innovation is a TE core value and is crucial to everything we do, from imagining new products to building solutions that innovatively solve customer challenges. By embracing and advancing our tradition of thinking beyond the conventional, our engineers continue to demonstrate their skill and leadership in collaborating and communicating effectively with their TE peers and our customers. Their commitment to innovation distinguishes us across the industries we serve: Delivering an extraordinary customer experience, consistently over time.