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Lubrication by force-of-habit needs to stop. Despite the fact that many products and methods seem to have historic staying power, in my opinion there is a widespread need to unlearn lubrication, and then reinvent and rebuild. This is already happening in certain segments of our field. For instance, in the exhibition hall of the Lubrication Excellence 2006 Conference, I saw more new products and services on display than any two previous years combined.
Don’t assume that the big companies with immense budgets and legions of engineers will be the only ones leading the innovation thrust. Many of these large companies have been milking the lubrication field for decades by selling the same products and services year after year. Some of these behemoth organizations have cut their staffs and emaciated their R&D budgets to such an extent that only incremental product improvements can be expected, let alone breakthrough technologies.
I recently heard that the R&D spend by big corporations, as a percentage of revenue, continues to trend downward in the United States.1 However, much of this R&D deficit is made up by reallocating funds to buying innovations cultivated in small businesses. In 1995, there were 322 sub-$50 million acquisitions, but by 2004, that number rose to 1,400! This trend is expected to continue.
Big Doesn’t Mean First-to-Market
In fact, big companies and market-share leaders are often jolted by innovations of smaller competitors. Consider this2:
Diet and caffeine-free soft drinks were not introduced by Coca-Cola
Overnight package delivery was not introduced by the U.S. Postal Service
Online mapping was not introduced by Rand McNally
Cell phones were not introduced by AT&T
Is there room for innovation and new business start-ups in the lubrication field? Tons! If you look at what some OEMs are installing on new machinery today, you see opportunity with a capital O. Many of these products are ready for the “Antiques Roadshow”. I will not insult suppliers by naming brands of specific products … after all, you know who you are. Suffice it to say they relate, in specific cases, to lubricants themselves, how they are stored and handled, how they are applied to machines, means of contamination control and means of inspection.
This is a message for lubrication users. You’ve probably heard the saying “nobody got fired for buying IBM.” This was a common expression back in the days when IBM was King Kong in the business computer field. Its dominance was robbed when innovative, risk-taking, fast-moving competitors arrived on the scene. In order to foster innovation, we’ve got to be bold, embrace change and challenge the status quo. In other words, we need to try something new … an innovation. And if no innovation exists to solve a problem or serve a need, tell your suppliers and make yourself heard.
This message is for lubrication product providers and OEMs. Don’t assume there is nothing new to invent. Don’t be a laggard. Don’t wait to innovate until you’re forced to innovate. Be a trailblazer and advocate fresh new ideas. You don’t have to be a mental giant with advanced degrees to invent. As an example of exceptional innovation, take a look at the front cover of this issue of Machinery Lubrication. These are powerful “reinventions” by small companies that were long overdue. They saw the opportunity and took the initiative. There are countless other examples of new products and creative ideas that are streaming into the lubrication field today.
Think you have what it takes to make a million as a lubrication entrepreneur? Ponder this: ten years ago, two guys with an idea founded a little company named Google. Today, the mountain of cash it would take to buy Google is enough to swallow eight General Motors!3