Machinedesign 8105 Engineering Challenge Websites 01 0

6 Engineering Challenge Websites

June 25, 2014
Global collaboration is now in full swing as open innovation network challenges appear all over the web. Have you stepped up to solve an online engineering challenge?

Not all engineering challenges are created equal. Some ask for solutions through new designs, a redesign, chemicals or materials, smart electronics, or with the use of existing patents to create a technology spin-off. Most of the time there is a monetary reward for coming up with the best solution. Some challenges boast rewards of $10 million! There is also the fame and recognition that comes from answering the prayers of some of the largest corporations in the world.

Here are six places on the web where you can strut your problem-solving skills:

  • NineSigma: This network is truly 'open' innovation because the challenges are posted publically. The company started back in 2000 and has a long list of clients in government, as well as the medical, food and beverage, aerospace, and automotive industries. Most recently, the company partnered with GE, challenging engineers to use additive manufacturing and make precision parts out of refractory metals. Winners of this challenge can be reviewed here.
  • NineSights: An offshoot company of NineSigma, these niche sites tackle challenges for specific industries, corporations, or causes. For example, the problem of concussions on the football field hosted by GE, Under Armour, and the NFL. The first challenge focused on identifying breakthrough technologies and approaches that will improve the diagnosis and prognosis of mild traumatic brain injury. Sixteen technologies won the challenge.

The second challenge invited proposals for novel technologies, system designs, or materials that can: quantify head impacts in real time; detect, track or monitor biologic or physiological indicators of traumatic brain injuries; protect the brain from traumatic injuries; mitigate or prevent short or long-term consequences of brain trauma; and assist in training to prevent traumatic brain injuries. Winners will be announced this September.

  • GrabCad: This online library of CAD files acts as a hub for posting and answering challenges.
  • AutoHarvest: AutoHarvest doesn't necessarily post challenges. Rather, they offer an Intellectual Property library for members only. This product is in beta stage, but already has the support of a long list of automotive suppliers. The goal of the organization is to help unload old patents and help companies transfer the technology to other companies. One successful case study includes Ford Motor Company allowing the license of its patented inflatable-safety-belt. The availability may lead to the wider adoption of inflatable safety belts as other automakers and industries seek to enhance passenger safety.
  • marketplace: marketplace is a division of The company manages open innovation challenges and offers services like the marketplace portal where companies upload technologies they wish to commercialize.

As always, check the rules and regulations, terms and conditions, and any other legal jargon on each of these sites. While there may be a monetary return for winning, you may also be relinquishing your rights to the idea whether you win or lose.

Do you want to post a challenge?

If you are in need of some engineers to solve your problems, here is a brief scope on how open innovation networks operate:

Companies looking for answers can submit non-confidential requests through an open innovation network. These networks are usually not free for companies looking for innovation. In fact, some can cost $30,000 to $60,000. Before you think about launching a challenge on your own, note that challenges can receive anywhere from 4 to 3,000 responses. An open innovation network helps host and filter the results, and acts as a safe, third-party medium.

Most companies will keep the request generic, for example, 'a global consumer product company invites proposals for new technology to dry hands in bathrooms located in public spaces.'

Then the open innovation network's community of subscribers who deem themselves 'solution providers' can answer the request with non-confidential information. For instance, they may show the results, but not the path to reach the solution. Solution providers are usually not charged to submit answers. However, their identity is public to the company who is asking for help. The company may even go as far as holding an in-person meeting with some of the finalists but keep walls up in the room to conceal their identity.

The open innovation network will help filter the proposals, help liaison the in-person and phone meetings, and promote the winners if the client company allows names to be public.

Do you have another open innovation challenge web site to add to the list? If so, email me or post the link in the comments section below. And, don't forget to share your open innovation experiences with MACHINE DESIGN readers!

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