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Innovation means new ideas. But a good idea is not enough to do a business with…
(Published on May 2008 – JEC Magazine #40)
INTERVIEW WITH MR. BEN DROGT, INNOVATIONMANAGER, DSM COMPOSITE RESINS
JEC Composites Magazine: What does your role as Innovation Manager involve? And what does innovation mean to you?
BEN DROGT: In my company, innovation means finding and developing new products, new applications and new business models to create added value.
Innovation is not a goal in itself. It is very often seen as the creative process of inventing new products or technologies. However, a real successful innovation is not necessarily the invention but its successful launch on the market. Very often, an innovative marketing strategy is as important as the innovativeness of the new product or application. To me, innovation means “triple-B”: Bringing Brilliant ideas to Business.
Successful innovation covers all five steps of the innovation stage-gate process, from finding the idea (1), through to the technical and commercial feasibility study (2), the product and technology development (3), the scale up (4) and finally the product launch (5). All steps require different skills and disciplines from the organization. My role is to manage these steps in the innovation process and manage the innovation project portfolio within my company, as well as making sure that brilliant ideas will indeed bring business. There are many opportunities to create innovative new businesses in the composite industry. These opportunities are often driven by issues like global warming, product availability, the need for higher product performance, and costs.
Composites offer excellent opportunities to match these trends: replacing traditional materials such as steel, concrete and wood with composite materials will result in lighter cars and therefore reduced CO2 emissions; using bio-based raw materials will make composites more sustainable than using resins derived from the scarce petrochemical raw materials and, finally, new resin technologies can make composites competitive with large volume materials such as steel and aluminium. The innovation challenge for the composite industry lies in creating lower-weight structures in an environmentally sustainable and economical feasible way.
JCM: What is the most difficult task in your job? How do you handle it?
B. D.: Maybe the most challenging aspect of my job is selecting the right opportunity among all the opportunities that composites offer. Considering that composites are the ideal material to meet societal trends such as the need for reduced CO2 emissions, product availability and cost effectiveness, they offer a very wide range of opportunities. To make the right choice, you can make in-depth, time-consuming analyses, but very often your “gut feeling” (based on years of experience in the composite market) can give the fast and right answer.
JCM: Is your current position in the composite industry the result of specific training, degrees, and/or experience?
B. D.: I would say that having been a DSM employee for 21 years – 18 years of which have been in composites – and having filled a number of R&D and business management positions have really helped me in this job. But it takes more than just experience: converting innovative ideas into a market success very often requires a sound project management approach and building good specialist teams covering the different disciplines involved in the innovation process. The best innovation manager is more often an experienced project manager rather than a creative inventor.
JCM: Have you got any advice to someone who wants to do the same job as you?
B. D.: To anyone who is interested in becoming an innovation manager in the composite industry, I would advise 1) trying to get such a job because the opportunities for innovation are enormous and the reward can be very high. I believe it is important that innovation not only come from raw material suppliers, but also from the producers of composite parts, and 2) finding new applications for composites as there are plenty of them. As a good example, I would like to mention the carbon fibre reinforced 100% composite bridge (based on a DSM Atlac E-nova vinylester resin) designed and produced by Fibercore Europe. The Dutch company took up the challenge to prove that advanced composites can commercially compete with concrete, offering big advantages in terms of durability and environmental impact.