Articles, Lean & Opex

How General Fusion used the Power of the Crowd to drive Innovation

Originally written by Graham Buchanan from InnoCentive

At InnoCentive, we allow organizations to put their pressing problems and unmet needs out to the crowd – our network of over 380,000 smart minds we call ‘Solvers’ Which is exactly what General Fusion, global leader in commercial fusion energy, came to us to do. Speaking about their motivations, Brendan Cassidy, Open Innovation Manager at General Fusion, said: “As a scientific company, we are experimental by nature and we wanted to experiment with crowdsourcing to see what kind of ideas we could get by going outside our organization and the more traditional avenues of problem solving.”

The process started like most of our client engagements – with an in-person workshop, where we provide training in our Challenge Driven Methodology and start identifying, prioritizing and refining problems. General Fusion came out of their workshop with three problems for inclusion in their pilot, each focusing on a different technical field: plasma science, mechanical engineering and engineering physics. InnoCentive Challenge Experts then worked with the General Fusion team to frame these problems as ‘Challenges’ – well-formed problem statements that include a detailed description of the problem, solution and IP requirements and award amounts.
Let’s dive into some of the specifics of the resulting Challenges and the results.

Sealing Anvil under Repetitive Impacts against Molten Metal

General Fusion wanted a new method to seal a metal cylinder and the metal surface of the cylindrical hole into which it fits, such that molten lead on one end of the cylinder is isolated from a vacuum on the opposite end. The Challenge was posted to the InnoCentive platform for 30 days, over which time 64 submissions from 17 countries were received. After evaluating these submissions, General Fusion decided to award $20,000 to Kirby Meacham – an MIT-trained mechanical engineer and inventor listed on 35 patents. Speaking about his win, Meacham said: “I was able to draw from my knowledge of high temperature seal technology gained by recent work on reduced friction piston rings for internal combustion engines”. General Fusion have since contracted Meacham to integrate his design into their specific setup.

Data-Driven Prediction of Plasma Performance

General Fusion was interested in identifying patterns in their experimental plasma shot data, asking Solvers to produce an algorithm capable of early prediction of overall shot performance. The Challenge included a live leader scoreboard and Solvers were provided with extensive data from one of General Fusion’s experimental plasma injectors. General Fusion ended up awarding a total of $6,500 to two Solvers, one from Italy and one from Canada, with the latter actually being a technical Oscar winner for his work in Hollywood image processing.

Fast Current Switch to Plasma Device

General Fusion was looking for a method to quickly and reliably induce a substantial current to jump a 5-10 cm gap within a few hundred microseconds. They ended up receiving 46 submissions from 18 countries, awarding a total of $10,000 to three Solvers – two from the USA and one from Canada – who submitted novel ideas that General Fusion had not previously considered.

In total, General Fusion made $36,500 in awards as part of their three-Challenge pilot, gaining diverse perspectives and valuable ideas from places they wouldn’t usually have access to. If you would like find out more, you can read our interview with Brendan Cassidy in this free White Paper.

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