As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold around the world, it quickly became clear that PPE and ventilator manufacturers alone could not deliver enough of the vital medical equipment in time to fully manage the size of the crisis. The industry needed more hands on deck – and the open innovation community had them in plentiful supply.
Open innovation enables makers, innovators and other skilled individuals and volunteers to collaborate to solve specific problems collectively. While the concept has shown a tremendous promise over the past two decades, that potential has gone largely untapped. In the face of a global crisis, however, open innovation’s full potential was put to the test.
The Open COVID-19 Community is just one example of what can be achieved with this collaborative approach to problem solving. In a matter of days, a global network of engineers, fab labs, makers, hospitals and medical professionals cooperated and collaborated to address the medical supply gap in new and creative ways via a cloud-based platform – and with remarkable effect.
The open network platform connected a Fab Lab network of more than 300,000 designers, makers and engineers, experts and professionals who could provide these teams with advice and guidance, and medical professionals who could share specific wants and needs. This collaboration among different professionals in different industries to solve a shared challenge was truly unique: for doctors to be able to voice their requirements in seconds to makers and innovators located half a world away was exciting and inspirational. Usually, the paths of these people do not cross; bringing them together through open innovation unleashed a collective intelligence that was quite extraordinary.
As well as facilitating collaboration, the Open COVID-19 Community made cloud-based design, 3D modeling and simulation software available to its participating makers and startups, enabling them to verify accurate representations of their designs in simulated real-world environments to ensure optimal performance – before putting them into production. This ability resulted in an agility that bridged a gap and delivered life-saving equipment to those who needed it most.
Indeed, while the globe’s biggest manufacturers were hampered by legacy processes and procedures, the open innovation community was free to try new ways of working, to take risks, and to act fast. These freedoms results in unprecedented speed in design and fabrication, with some makers working all night to fabricate parts for the front lines.
While the success of the Open COVID-19 Community is a proud achievement, the doors that this experience has opened to a brighter future are its most exciting aspect. There has never been a better use case for open innovation, and the success that followed demonstrated exactly how collective intelligence can enable breakthrough innovations for the greater good.
As we look forward to the years ahead, open innovation will bring even more makers and startups together, while providing fast but steady mentoring from experts and professionals. From the launching pad of a global disaster, these self-appointed problem-solvers will bring to life more innovative ideas than ever before, tackling and solving some of humanity’s biggest challenges. When the only “rule” is for each participate to contribute knowledge and expertise for the common good, everything is possible.
Frédéric Vacher is the Head of innovation, Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE Lab, and creator of the Open COVID-19 Community