MANN+HUMMEL numbers among the top 50 most innovative companies in Germany. In an interview with Blog Manager Ingrid Wittke, Thomas Jessberger explains how MANN+HUMMEL goes about systematically optimising and further developing its product range.
Mr. Jessberger, the Advanced Engineering department is something of a nerve center for the further development of Original Equipment products. What exactly goes on there?
Jessberger: In advanced engineering, our aim is to improve our current product range and make it more competitive. It can be difficult to find new ways of approaching established products, such as plastic air filters, but in our innovation workshops we are constantly discovering improvements that could give our products a competitive edge. Through our innovations we hope to maintain our position as the market leader – today and for years to come.
What do you do if you simply cannot come up with an idea for something new?
Jessberger: Innovation is not an activity reserved for a chosen few: ideally, everyone in the company and many external partners should be involved too. Plus, we also tackle this important task systematically, monitoring market trends and identifying applicable technologies from other industries which MANN+HUMMEL might be able to utilise. What’s more, our customers and engineers can provide valuable inspiration; our suppliers also have an important role to play, as well as institutes and universities. So you see, there is a vast range of sources of inspiration for our ideas.
How does this innovation process work when it comes to advanced engineering?
Jessberger: In contrast to advanced-development, we have the advantage of being able to implement solutions into series production incredibly quickly, because our goal is to optimise existing products and remedy any weaknesses they may have. One aspect that never fails to fascinate me is the diversity of our work: innovation can take the form of making incremental enhancements to a product or even creating entirely new products – and everything in between. Take the radial seal concept in air filter systems, for example or the Flexline air filter innovation.
When working on your innovations, can you ever know for certain whether you are on the right track?
Jessberger: Actually, that is a really interesting question – and one that we are constantly asking ourselves. With this in mind, we have established an innovation success rate to use as a benchmark – this shows us how many projects we have worked on and how many of them have been put into series production. Over the last four years, we have achieved a success rate of approximately 65 percent. There is not much in the way of a documented standard for innovation success, but when I speak with our counterparts from other companies, a rate of around 30 percent is often mentioned. This is an evidence to our understanding of our customers and the market.
As it is our 75th anniversary year, let us look to the future. How is MANN+HUMMEL positioned in terms of advanced engineering for the years to come?
Jessberger: I am particularly pleased that over the last few years we have developed a dynamic culture of innovation. It is now ingrained in our employees that a good idea on its own is simply not enough – that good idea needs to be turned into a great one. That we have launched at least one innovation onto the market each and every year is proof that our work has been successful. Our goal is to continue this success in the coming years.