Supply chain innovation at Eaton

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The pandemic forced many companies to re-examine the processes and tools they’d traditionally used in supply chain, making it clear that what worked in the past may no longer be driving results. For Eaton, this meant closely revisiting internal processes and realizing they had a gap in innovation–and they needed a solution to channel new ideas.  

In our latest Big Ideas in Supply Chain podcast, Eaton’s Executive Vice President and Chief Supply Chain Officer, Rogerio Branco, talks with Dr. Anne Robinson, Chief Strategy Officer at Kinaxis about how Eaton not only saw an increase in innovations but a rise in new supply chain patents thanks to a new idea incubation lab coupled with a strong focus on diversity and inclusivity.  

Here are some key takeaways from their discussion.  

Incubating new ideas  

Eaton is a power management company focused on supporting technologies that solve complex electrical and industrial issues around the world. Like many organizations, Eaton faced significant supply chain disruptions and industry shifts during the pandemic, forcing them to recognize that supply chain processes they once considered best practices were no longer meeting the company’s needs. 

For Rogerio, finding the solution to these challenges meant re-evaluating how the supply chain team was managing innovation and ideation within the company. “We have our global team in supply chain […] And one thing I realized is everybody has ideas.” 

With a global team of supply chain associates, Eaton recognized that they needed a funnel for their ideas, which led to the creation of a new incubation lab. Eaton’s lab consists of a physical and virtual laboratory where anyone in the company can bring ideas that range from process, technology, and hardware. This branch has a core team at the physical lab where submitted innovations are measured, evaluated, tested, and then validated in actual business settings with the potential to commercialize.  

While some ideas don’t drive the expected outcomes, Rogerio says this exercise has been beneficial for driving creativity and employee participation. “There are some ideas that don't get the value we expect, but at least just to go through the process of allowing people to come up with the idea and get us to validate and say, ‘Yeah, you know what, it was a good idea, but we don't believe the results.’ What we realize is sometimes one idea is going to take you to another idea. […] That allows what I call the creation process itself. So, it's not just the ideation, but the total ideation process, which one builds on another.” 

According to Eaton’s most recent reports, of the company’s 4,000 supply chain associates, 400-500 of them are actively submitting ideas.  

Diversity in Eaton’s supply base 

Eaton isn’t just leading in innovation – the company is also dedicated to improving diversity and inclusivity. As of now, 60% of the board of directors as well as 35% of the global Eaton team are diverse.  

Its inclusivity efforts aren’t just limited to hiring and recruitment, however. Eaton also prioritizes working with diverse suppliers. To encourage this, Eaton has an initiative to bring in suppliers owned by women, minority groups, LGBTQ+, and veterans with a goal of driving $1 billion of work with diverse organizations.  

Rogerio states that working with such diverse groups both internally and externally helps uncover new ideas. “If you look at the combination of the management team diversity with a diverse set of suppliers, what we believe [is that we] would be able to have different views on problems and find different solution for problems, which allows, for example, creativity. […] Our team that manages the incubation lab is in India. So that's one team that is really unique for that perspective when it comes to technology. But at the same time, that team is interacting with the global teams in Brazil, U.S., Europe, anywhere in Europe. So, it doesn’t matter where you sit from. […] Anybody has a voice, anybody is recognized the same way. And we value every input.” 

To learn more about supply chain innovation and diversity and inclusivity at Eaton from Rogerio Branco and Dr. Anne Robinson, watch the full video podcast here: 

Big Ideas in Supply Chain graphic with red, green, blue and yellow circle designs and headshots of speakers


Catch up on other recent Big Ideas in Supply Chain video podcasts:

Predicting ChatGPT's impact on the future of supply chain

Build resilience into all supply chain decisions

The CFO’s perspective on recession, inflation and supply chain success



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