Midrex Innovation “Cycles of Learning” For Success

Jim Lewis, P.E.Innovation Team Process Coach - Midrex Technologies, Inc.

Articles by Jim
Jim Lewis

“The power of what you have learned enables you to do the next thing, and it enables you to do the next thing better."

Jonathan “Jony” Ive, former Apple designer

Midrex is a company built upon knowledge learned through years of applied research, engineering, and plant experience. Our Innovation Process, launched in 2017, builds upon that knowledge legacy by continual learning through PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) cycles, which are the core work of Innovation Engineering (IE).

PDSA cycles ask the following questions:

  • What does success look like?
  • What are some ideas to achieve success?
  • Which idea is most meaningful and unique?
  • What would kill the idea?
  • How can you test the “death threats” and the idea itself?
  • What did you learn from the test?

When confronted with any kind of problem, innovators first define “what is a successful outcome?” and Plan an activity (experiment, research, measurement, or conversation – anything to gain data) to try to reach that outcome. Next, they Do the activity, taking care to gather as much data as possible. Learning occurs as the innovators Study the data to extract meaning. Finally, innovators Act on the meaning learned, which could be to revise the activity and repeat it, seek another idea path, or solve the problem.

Each PDSA iteration is a “Cycle of Learning,” which increases knowledge through a consistent refinement of data and its interpretation.

IE is a methodology for growing a culture of never-ending innovation through increased speed (up to 6x faster) and decreased risk (30-80%). IE defines innovation as “meaningfully unique” ideas in which people are willing to invest their time, energy, and money. The process to create meaningfully unique (MU) ideas can be shown as:

At Midrex, we train innovators in this process to gather in Diverse groups (Create Sessions) to Stimulate idea creation intended to solve a specific, defined problem. Our Innovation Team, comprised of Green Belt certified Innovation Engineers, drives out Fear by identifying Death Threats (issues that could kill an idea) and uses PDSA cycles to resolve the threats. Once the threat(s) to an idea are successfully resolved, it is promoted as a Technology Development activity. However, if the threat is upheld, work on the idea is ended, thus saving further expenditure of financial and human resources.

In the first five years of Midrex Innovation Engineering, almost 300 ideas have been generated by a diverse group of innovators from throughout the company. Every technology development activity in the pipeline today is a result of the IE process, notably:

  • Decarbonization of Ironmaking – MIDREX Flex™ and MIDREX H2™ technology, market confidence studies (five programs)
  • Higher Value Metallics – enhanced DRI-based metallic product quality and value-in-use (six programs)

We also use PDSA cycles to continually improve our work processes. For example, in our 2022 Innovation Team activities, we developed better metrics for ranking ideas by their MU score (meaningfulness and uniqueness) so we can better prioritize our workload. In its 2nd iteration, we now have a data-driven ranking tool that we will continue to sharpen via PDSA cycles.

In pursuing our core value to Innovate, we at Midrex share the challenge to continually learn. And we learn best when we define success and systematically grow our knowledge through “cycles of learning,” with the results being better work performance. I look forward to training team members in India in the Innovation Process so Midrex can broaden the diversity of its pool of innovators.

Editor’s note: Jim Lewis is transitioning to his new assignment as General Manager – India Engineering. See News & Views in this issue for more information.