The 90-year-old Radio Flyer factory in Chicago is an exemplar of onsite innovation. Brainstorming takes place in the Engine Room, which is awash in whiteboards and Post-it notes. CNC machines and 3-D printers chug away in the Prototype Shop. In the bright, airy Play Lab, staff members observe children scooting around on the company's newest children's wagons, trikes, and electric cars.
"Our products are very physical," said Robert Pasin, CEO of the business his grandfather founded in 1917. "We need to see and touch them. We need to see kids riding them."
Radio Flyer--with annual revenue in the $150 million range--reliably develops 20 to 30 new products each year. In 2020, with the company's 80-some employees dispersed to their homes as a result of COVID, it maintained that pace with 25. Designers and engineers adopted a virtual whiteboard tool called Miro to collaborate on sketches. Two employees remained in the plant to mock up prototypes, which staff members passed around among themselves, making contact-less handoffs in parking lots. In their homes or on deserted schoolyards, employees filmed their kids (and, occasionally, petite wives and girlfriends) using the toys and shared the results online to make changes.
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