Ever heard of our Open Innovation Challenge? If not, it’s a kind of collaborative project which aims to generate new ideas and innovations. The second instance of the competition was held last year, with participants invited to share their innovative ideas with us. The theme for this year’s challenge was to come up with alternative sealing materials and solutions, with contributors asked to look not only at the geometries and their counterparts, but also the material itself.

A challenge for all involved

A cross-functional team has the task of coming up with the problems to be solved in the competition; my colleague Mirja Vogt, from the Strategy and Innovation division and I, Tobias Wörner, from material group management in Purchasing, are responsible for the organisation. Why does Purchasing have a special role to play here? I am in contact with our suppliers on a daily basis, and these make up the majority of our target group for the Open Innovation Challenge. Our suppliers make a huge contribution to the success of MANN+HUMMEL with their expertise and know-how.

Last year, participants had two months in which to submit their ideas to us. In addition to those from our suppliers, some private individuals also submitted their proposals. The success of the competition alone was proof enough that our concept had been able to reach a large number of people. We received all sorts of submissions, ranging from some rather outlandish solutions through to ideas which we were able to develop relatively quickly along with the contributors.

A nice way to finish

At the end of the competition, we wanted to celebrate the positive results with all those who took part, so we invited them to attend a special closing event at our technology centre here in Ludwigsburg. The ‘Open Innovation Event’ last December was our way of saying thank you to all those who had contributed their ideas during the competition. Mr Weber got the proceedings under way, and he was joined by Mr Hoehn and Dr Klein in welcoming our guests, who also spoke about the role of the purchasing department and addressed some technical points.

As the challenge involves forward-thinking projects, we thought a great starting point for an unforgettable event would be to look at the past – after all, we can only shape what lies ahead if we know what has gone before. With this in mind, we invited the attendees to accompany us on a journey through time. Starting in the past, we took a tour of our very own FILTERWERK museum to give our guests an idea of the company’s history.

We then moved on to the present, represented by our laboratories on site. Dr Björn Schmid organised a tour of the testing centre and talked about the research and development work carried out there. One of the test areas here deals with sealing materials and their properties and maybe even some of our participants’ ideas in the near future. And, seeing as we are aiming to shape the futuretogether as part of the Open Innovation Challenge, our journey through time ended with a presentation of our work. How does innovation management work at MANN+HUMMEL? How do we implement new ideas? And how have our guests made a contribution to an innovative future?

The highlight of the event came at the end of the evening, with the Innovation Award presented to the supplier with the most promising ideas. For us, this was a great opportunity to once again show how pleased we were with the success of the competition. And, of course, the winners were able to take away a rather special trophy.

Now, with the event over for another year, only one question remains: what will be the theme for next year’s Open Innovation Challenge?