Both automotive and industrial filtration customers expect their suppliers to deliver a steady flow of innovations. In his blog post, Chris Sturgess tells us how MANN+HUMMEL has implemented measures within its Advanced Development department to ensure it can retain its position as one of the most innovative businesses in Germany.
Our task in Advanced Development is to drive innovation forward. With this in mind, we have, for example, established a concept that we call ‘free innovation time’. Within the Advanced Development department, ten per cent of colleagues’ working time can be dedicated purely to non-project related innovation topics, for example brainstorming and researching new ideas. This is an example of the active innovation culture that we promote in order to encourage the creation, and also exchange of new ideas.
Innovation is part of our business strategy for good reason. To support this strategy, we have special departments at various locations around the world which are responsible for innovation. Alongside our development centre in Ludwigsburg, Advanced Development locations in the USA, France and China have been established. In addition, every employee is encouraged to propose new ideas into the business. To make this a possibility, we have an open working atmosphere which promotes creativity amongst our employees.
For us, another key aspect in ensuring a continual flow of innovation is the topic of ‘open innovation’. We cannot know everything, so we rely on our work with innovative suppliers and partners. We are currently co-operating closely with, among others, the University of Nantes in France. There, we have direct access to engine test benches and we can discuss and develop ideas with experts and students in the area of automotive engineering. This is an essential contribution to help guarantee our success.
Our customers play an essential role in the innovation process. Many ideas come up during conversations with our customers. It is often during these meetings that it becomes clear where market trends lie, and the direction in which customers want to go. We understand that the best idea will come to nothing if it does not fit to our customers’ strategy. It is crucial for us to understand what is happening in the market in the next 5, 10 or 15 years and what that means for our products. We can only receive the feedback we need with a high level of involvement on the part of our customers and continual discussion with them.
At the same time, it is our aim to become faster and increasingly efficient when it comes to innovation. We talk to the customers at the start of the innovation process, and during the ensuing development stage we compare our first results with the expectations of the customer – for example with initial basic prototypes within a very short period of time. Of course we also consult our customers at the end of the innovation process in order to plan the implementation of the proposed technology into the markets.
A structured approach is characteristic of our innovation processes. We start out with numerous ideas and then shortlist them through our innovation funnel, finally reaching a market-ready solution. During this process cross-functional committees verify the concepts regularly with regards to their technical feasibility, but also to make sure they fit our strategy and are ultimately relevant for the market. We do not regard discontinued ideas as failures, but rather document these as lessons learned and leave open the possibility of using those proposals in the future should market conditions change.
I see networking and the exchange of knowledge within the various divisions of the company as one of the biggest challenges of our work in Advanced Development. We need the support of the business units in order to successfully bring ideas and products to the market. We can only achieve this together. Our new technology centre in Ludwigsburg offers a perfect environment for collaboration, as we are working with several Series Development teams under one roof as of July. I am very optimistic that in doing this we can intensify our cooperation and become significantly more effective.