MANN+HUMMEL has for some time been considered one of the most innovative companies within the automotive industry, and now the filtration specialist and systems supplier is increasing its incorporation of the creativity and potential for innovation of its own suppliers under the banner of ‘Open Innovation’.

The inspiration for launching the ‘Open Innovation’ project to work closely with our suppliers was virtually handed to us on a silver platter while our student Trainee Lara Bauer was writing her thesis during her time with us.  So what is it all about?

The chief goal of Open Innovation is to open up the innovation process to parties outside of the company

We were fascinated by the idea of working with our suppliers to break new ground and promote innovation. In an environment in which cost is often the bottom line, we want this project to be an opportunity to broaden our horizons and bring the new, as yet undiscovered ideas that our partners have to offer to the fore.

The initial stage was developing a methodical approach. From there, we went on to decide that the central theme would be engine air filtration. With these foundations set out, we entered into discussion with product champions Mr Hofmeister (responsible for engine air filtration) and Dr Fuchs (responsible for technical plastic parts) to determine which questions would form the basis of the upcoming call for ideas. The questions and challenges were formulated to be open-ended and leave plenty of freedom for our suppliers to come up with suggestions.

We guided our suppliers by posing the following questions: Are there any alternative materials we could use for our plastic housing? Would it be possible to reduce wall thicknesses while increasing robustness? Could we be using different tools and manufacturing technologies? We are looking for innovative ideas of any kind from every stage of the entire value added chain.

Finally, we put the questions to carefully selected suppliers, giving them six weeks to submit their ideas. On the whole, the feedback we received in response to our campaign was extremely positive and the ideas submitted are suitable to be implemented – which only makes us want more!

We are currently in the process of asking selected suppliers to present their ideas in greater detail, as we are keen to develop some of these as part of advanced development projects. It is our aim to launch the first innovation project within the second half of the year.

For us here on the Innovation Management team, this project has turned out to be really rather exciting. Any innovative project is new to us too – there is no option to fall back on established processes and unprecedentedly intensive communication is required. It is important to really get to grips with the ideas surrounding the subject, to have the right people ready to assess the ideas properly and to get them on board. Such projects also require people to keep in contact with the suppliers so that communication does not break down. There is always more to learn, as we adapt and grow just as our projects do. There is no denying that it is a fascinating journey to be on.

Plus, there is one final thing for suppliers involved in the Open Innovation project to look forward to: at the end of September, we will be inviting our main suppliers from around the world to our international supplier day in Stuttgart. There, the suppliers who put forward the most innovative idea will be presented with the MANN+HUMMEL Innovation Award.