Dyson is well known for its air-moving technology. The company’s “cyclone” powered vacuums are iconic, soon to be made autonomous, and have changed the entire market for home products. You may also have experienced its hand-dryers in airports and commercial buildings, ending the paradigm of having to wipe your hands on your pants after using other driers. Its ventilation fans are now also air cleaners, and the company will soon roll out a new technology in hair dryers.
In the background, the company is also moving into other emerging technologies, and not all about air movement. Lighting is one of those areas, and battery power another.
But product line expansion is not the reason for its investment in a new research and development center. Yes, scale is part of it. Dyson recognizes that a breakthrough product may only arise out of thousands of failures (“For engineering, it’s a good thing because you’re forced to make mistakes and learn from them. You gain this visceral, tactile understanding.”). The company now needs to hire thousands more people to participate in that exploration.
But there are other, more significant drivers for its new building.
First, there is the DNA of the company. Like Apple, Dyson is fiercely committed to the design excellence and the entire product experience. Anthony Bamford, chairman of the UK construction equipment company JCB, was recently quoted in the Financial Times saying, “Dyson is a brilliant engineer and an exceptional designer. His love of product sets him apart — he cares about how a product looks, how it performs, how it can be different. As an iconoclast, he’ll develop many concepts . . . Those that [work] are wonderful examples of British creativity.” That quest for design excellence meant the development of 5,127 prototypes for the bagless vacuum cleaner, 1,000-plus prototypes for the 360 Eye robot, and 600 prototypes for the Supersonic hair dryer.
Then, there is the product development model refined in previous Dyson buildings. There is an essential openness through every part of the product development process. From its visit, the Financial Times says, “We tour through the prototyping area, with 3D printing machines that use 30 tonnes of nylon powder a year to create models. Next comes product testing, with robots pushing vacuum cleaners over patches of dust. Finally, we stand on the edge of a space that was once a production line for washing machines, and is now packed with desks bearing computer screens. Some 1,000 young engineers cram into the space.”
Then, there is the presence of everybody, even Dyson in the workspace. Dyson spends a lot of time in the laboratory, with significant effect. Dyson’s chairman and chief engineer talks of his monthly “James reviews.” He says “It can be nerve-wracking because he’s so inquisitive. He’ll always ask you a question you don’t have an answer to. We’ll sit for hours brainstorming and we’ll filter it down to what we think works best and build a prototype. James will say, ‘Have you thought about this?’ and we’ll say, ‘Well no, we haven’t.’”
Finally, there is competition. We know from our other research that there is a significant shortage of engineers in almost every developed economy. Britain is no exception, with more than 60,000 open job opportunities seeking talent. Every product design and development company in every industry is in competition with each other. The distribution of product development around the globe is part of the effort to find and engage top talent wherever they may live. The leading companies also realize that multidisciplinary collocation is a principal underlying condition for generating new product ideas and speeding their development.
Dyson now has plans to double the number of products it has on the market by 2020. To lead in that competition for talent and for new product, Dyson has designed and built Building D9 – a top-secret $2000 million building intended as a “gleaming cornerstone” in the company’s efforts to draw top talent right out of college to try, fail and then win with innovation and product design and performance excellence.
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