BA 850
Sustainability-Driven Innovation


Process Innovation



Process innovations are arguably one of the most evolved forms of innovation, in that they have roots in literally hundreds of years of product and service development. From the cotton gin to the assembly line, process innovation is a classic form of innovation, as well as one which typically allows the organization intellectual property protection, and therefore, some level of defensible differentiation over time.

From The Ten Types of Innovation:

Process innovations involve the activities and operations that produce an enterprise's primary offerings. Innovating here requires a dramatic change from “business as usual” that enables the company to use unique capabilities, function efficiently, adapt quickly, and build market-leading margins. Process innovations often form the core competency of an enterprise, and may include patented or proprietary approaches that yield advantage for years or even decades. Ideally, they are the “special sauce” you use that competitors simply can't replicate.

“Lean production,” whereby managers reduce waste and cost throughout a system, is one famous example of a Process innovation. Other examples include process standardization, which uses common procedures to reduce cost and complexity, and predictive analytics, which model past performance data to predict future outcomes–helping companies to design, price, and guarantee their offerings accordingly.

Process Innovation in the Sustainability Space

MBA Polymers Revolutionary Recycling Separation Process

The world of recycling and waste minimization is one which feels to continuously be on the edge of a revolutionary development but is many times fraught with frustration. Regardless of the constraints and struggles on the part of the recycler, all paths lead to the classic problem on the demand side of recycled plastics: There are relatively few applications for black, low quality, downcycled plastics, which are typically problematic in molding and processing. These are the types of plastics that are downcycled into parts like automotive wheel well liners and fairings (if you open the hood of your car and see a black, "swirly" finished plastic, this is low grade, downcycled plastic.) Like all supply and demand balances, if all plastics are recycled into black, low-quality plastics of limited marketable use, the price per ton is going to be suppressed.

Needless to say, if plastics can not only be recycled and repelletized by type, color, and other properties, it would represent a revolution in recycling and plastics. This is what MBA Polymers can do, and has roughly 60 patents to cover the process by which it does so.

From an excellent Pop Sci article on Mike Biddle:

"But by the time he saw Puckett's film, Biddle had quietly achieved what most thought impossible: He had discovered how to separate certain mixed plastics completely. This was no mere down-cycling. Biddle could take the plastic from, say, a laptop, reduce it to its purest form, and sell it back to a computer company to make another laptop. What's more, at his facility in Richmond, California, Biddle could produce recycled plastic with as little as 10 percent of the energy required to make virgin. In a world where people use 240,000 plastic bags every 10 seconds, where passengers on U.S. airlines consume one million plastic cups every six hours, where consumers in total discard more than 100 million tons of plastic annually, closing the loop on production and recycling could reduce global dependence on oil, the source material for virgin plastic. It could conceivably influence not only the price of oil, but global flows of trade as well. And it could dramatically reduce the wholesale smothering of communities across Asia and Africa with hazardous e-waste. If Biddle could convince people to give him waste rather than dump it around the globe, he could conceivably change the world."

Please watch the following 10:51 video. If the video is not displaying on the page, please view the video on the external site. The transcript is also available on the external site.

Click for link to transcript


I had the pleasure of judging an entrepreneurship competition at Penn State when Vortic, as a business venture, was but a glimmer in the eye of a team of upperclassmen, but even then, their focus, determination, and innovation was quite evident.

Vortic's core business is taking a uniquely stylish (and patent pending) approach to watchmaking, by upcycling century-old pocketwatch movements into beautiful, Corning Gorilla Glass-faced watches. Because of the variation of these old pocketwatches, they created a proprietary case design and fit process for each individual movement, which is then 3D printed and machined individually.

Their decidedly high-end and high-tech approach to upcycling resulted in their Kickstarter reaching its $10,000 goal within 12 hours, eventually landing at $41,035. Since then, the popularity of their watches means that you now have only the opportunity to purchase a backorder slot for your own Vortic... starting at $1,395.

Please watch the following 3:05 Kickstarter video:

Transcript of American Artisan Series Kickstarter Video

PRESENTER 1: So while we were researching for another watch- related project, we happened upon these really cool vintage American-made pocket watch movements. And the more we learned, the more we were interested. We actually found out that in the late 1800's, American railroads were having trouble keeping their schedule just because they didn't have a consistent way of keeping time.

PRESENTER 2: And three American pocket watch companies took the initiative and began fabricating precision timepieces for our railroad's engineers. They were the Elgin watch company from just outside Chicago, Illinois, the Waltham watch company from Boston, Massachusetts, and the Hamilton watch company from Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

PRESENTER 1: Pocket watches aren't really relevant these days, at least not in most circles. So we were looking for a way to preserve these movements as well as bring them into today's world. I mean these things have been running for over a hundred years and they're still going strong. So there's no reason why they can't run for a hundred more.

PRESENTER 2: That's when the American Artisan series by Vortec watches was born. These vintage pocket watches are extremely unique. So we designed and built a case to fit the nuances of each individual movement. This posed a difficult manufacturing problem so we decided to use a new technology, Metal 3-D printing.

PRESENTER 1: We made it our mission to manufacture and source every possible component in America. And to support efforts of pioneering companies like Shinola to revitalize watch manufacturing in the United States.

PRESENTER 2: The cases are made in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We're using corning Gorilla Glass made in California for our crystals. And the bands are American cowhide from the Leatherworks company in Florida.

PRESENTER 1: Even our watch boxes are handmade by a local carpenter using salvaged American walnut and finished right here in our northern Colorado workshop.

PRESENTER 2: Because each of these watches is so unique, we will strive to make sure each person gets exactly what they want. That's why we put together a decision guide to explain and illustrate the differences between each option.

PRESENTER 2: To make it holiday friendly, we've made our early bird specials the perfect gift for a watch lover. By Christmas, we will deliver one of our hand-crafted watch boxes containing our personalized holiday decision guide so they can select their individual options. Once we receive your pre-addressed selection card, we will begin crafting your one-of-a-kind timepiece.

Take this opportunity to experience the timeless quality of American manufacturing both old and new. We know you won't be disappointed.