If you’ve never heard the phrase “fail fast, fail cheap,” then you’re working with the wrong company. According to Cody Williamson, the Sales and Marketing Director of Windcreek, “That truly is key. You scratch together the stuff that’s in the yard to see if that will actually work. It works on paper, now put it into practice. It’s important to not go out and reengineer the wheel just to say that you did. Do something in practice, in material that will allow you to prove your concept very cheaply.” He should know. Windcreek Services believes so strongly in innovation that they created a department dedicated to it with two full time positions.
Every company can benefit from innovation, especially since it translates directly into lower operational costs and increased profits. It may be hard to find companies that specialize in innovation unless you’re in Gillette, Wyoming where Windcreek, a turnkey solutions provider, seized innovation as one of their core missions and identities in addition to being accountable and exemplary.
Many companies talk about the concept of innovation whereas others practice it. Windcreek embraces innovation, which transformed their business model making their services and products available on the national market.
Joel Williamson, Innovation Engineer, and Shay Lundvall, Innovation Project Manager, run the innovation department at Windcreek. Both come from project management backgrounds and embraced Windcreek’s cultural shift placing innovation at the center of everything they do. The innovation department works on operations projects run by other departments, known as CORE innovations, as well as run their own, called LEAP innovations. CORE innovation takes up to 75 percent of their time with LEAP claiming around 25 percent.
The Innovation Department was years in the making at Windcreek. Joel was excited when he heard about the idea of an innovation department. He got involved in its creation early because it sparked his passion. Lundvall was hired last summer to serve on the innovation team as Project Manager. According to Joel, the key to a strong innovation culture is hiring the right people, a theme that resonates throughout the company.
The culture of innovation at Windcreek has a profound effect on new employees who don’t necessarily come from innovation backgrounds. Joel says, “They just come out of their shell.” Again, it’s ultimately about hiring the right people. Jason Scallen, Windcreek’s Sales Manager, says, “We ignite opportunities naturally because we can’t be the experts in everything, nor do we want to be. But if you hire the right people and they see that value, they’re going to want to be a part of that process.”
Innovation is embedded into processes and training across the board at Windcreek using a method called Lean Manufacturing that eliminates waste in product development and processes by utilizing the right resources. Innovation is successful at Windcreek because “it’s seen as part of the process of every product and service,” says Shay.
Innovation in Action
Inspiration for innovation can come from the most unlikely of places. Lundvall finds inspiration for innovation through landscape architecture. “There’s always been that creative building, taking something from nothing and allowing a customer to either use it or experience it some way,” says Lundvall.
In order to develop their innovation acumen, Joel and Lundvall attended the Innovation Engineering Institute program as well as completed Sigma training with the intention of finding and creating new ways to meet customer needs while cutting costs. It’s been so successful that one of their LEAP innovation projects, Fluid Management Systems, which addresses salt water disposal with mobile filtering, increased the project’s profits from $400,000 in sales the first year to 3 million in year three.
Another innovation driven achievement addresses plugging gas wells. Windcreek invented a new, more cost effective way to plug methane gas wells called the PANDA Process. Their process was approved by the State of Wyoming Oil & Gas Conservation Commission as well as the federal government. Traditionally, the industry’s method for plugging wells uses a cast-iron bridge plug (CIBP). CIBP is more expensive due to the costs of the plug and the bottom up plugging method it employs. The PANDA Process doesn’t require a CIBP. Windcreek’s PANDA process uses top-down plugging, resulting in a 30 percent savings. The PANDA Process is a registered trademark.
Innovation Proves Profit Increases
Though cost cutting and increasing profits is at the forefront of most companies’ lists when using innovation techniques, Windcreek also prioritizes safety as one of its core values. Though keeping employees safe will lead to cost savings in the end, Windcreek truly invests in the well-being of their employees. “Another aspect of innovation is safety. Even though it might seem subtle, it’s hard to quantify the life or the hand that you saved. Some of our innovations are solely based on safer ways to do things,” says Williamson.
Defining innovation is challenging because it means so many things to so many people. Joel admits that, “It’s hard to describe it or put a definition to it,” though he eventually describes it as “anything but the usual. It’s challenging the status quo. We’re looking at creating new and unique products and services.” Windcreek is prepared to customize solutions per client and project, making them stand out in their field.
The future of innovation at Windcreek looks even brighter. According to Williamson, “Part of our company’s ten-year goal is to have a think tank staff. Or a problem solving staff or whatever the immediate needs of the engineer are such as a computer drafter, computer engineer, designer, creative people that would be a resource, innovating for a purpose for hire.” One thing is certain, the innovation team is humble. They see a large part of their roles as catalytic facilitators rather than experts. Their job is to bring all the area experts to the table to discuss and solve problems together, not to fix the problems themselves. In this way collaboration is deeply embedded in the innovation processes at Windcreek.
“Remember,” says Joel, “We’re only the spark. The main burner is everyone else.”