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Inventive minds

June 2, 2015

Industries:
Other
Topics:
Research and development
Geography:
Global

Achieve brought four Atlas Copco R&D experts together to discuss what contributes to the Group’s innovative culture, and what it takes for an idea to become a market success.

Wim Bouwen ATLAS COPCO

Wim Bouwen, Vice President R&D and Shared Engineering Services, Compressor Technique

How does Atlas Copco promote and encourage innovation?

Wim: My first reaction is that maybe we don’t need to promote innovation so much internally because being innovative is in our genes at Atlas Copco.

Petra: I agree. We always believe that we can do things in a better way, and we are allowed to test new things, be creative and get credit for being innovative.

Mats: I’m fairly new to Atlas Copco, and I really felt that culture when I arrived.

Petra: One way to promote innovation is through pre-development projects that allow engineers to take higher risks and test new ideas, without sharp deadlines to meet. Innovation is also a lot about communication. It’s not just one person who has an idea; it’s the combination of ideas that will make innovative solutions.

Mats: We run projects across the divisions with participants from different functions and divisions, normally with external partners, and when you add a lot of different people you create different types of thinking.

What do you believe contributes to this culture of innovation?

Petra: Although Atlas Copco is a big company, it feels like a smaller one with a lot of entrepreneurship.

Wim: We also have a general understanding that we need to change and innovate continuously. The drawback is that often we are not proud enough of what we can do. Like Petra said, we always look at what we can improve.

Guy: There is no complacency. It’s in our mindset that there is always a better way. We have key performance indicators asserting that a certain amount of the business should be generated from new products, and we measure that and give attention to innovation.

Petra Kastensson, Program Manager Pre-Development, Industrial Technique

What do engineers like about working at Atlas Copco?

Guy: While we have the structure of a big organization and are a large multinational company, we are divisionalised, working in rather small organizations that contain all the functions in one building, from marketing to engineering to manufacturing. That closeness of the functions is something you don’t have in many big companies, and I think it is a big advantage.

Petra: Engineers also have the chance to follow a product or solution through the whole process, from the idea stage to when it is being used by the customer, and that is very inspiring for engineers.

When do you know that a product should be developed?

Mats: A good sign is having a very strong and passionate ambassador behind the innovation, either a customer or an employee. But of course there are many other criteria as well.

Petra: Customer need is the most important criterion. We have to know that it fills customers’ needs or that it transforms the customer.

Wim: Another very strong signal is the customer’s willingness to pay for the innovation. Many people have needs but aren’t prepared to pay for something that meets those needs.

Mats Källman, Vice President Engineering Services, Mining and Rock Excavation Technique

How do you select innovative ideas?

Wim: We have come up with a process that deals specifically with ideas and helps us decide which ones to follow up on. This process has helped us get better at selecting innovations.

Guy: With ideas focused in the same direction, you immediately sense which ideas are good and can prioritize. We have what we call the ‘push’ innovation ideas from the internal organisation, but we also have ‘pull’ innovation ideas from customers, suppliers, universities and others outside the organization.

Why does Atlas Copco work with external partners in R&D?

Guy: You cannot do everything yourself and be an expert in all fields. Today the world is changing so quickly that you have to rely on the outside world, have your antennae on and pick up the new information and technology from outside partners. The time when you could develop everything yourself is definitely over.

Petra: We need to work with organizations and people that have the best cutting-edge technology.

Guy Laps, Technology and Innovation Manager, Construction Technique

How do you get external partners to contribute ideas?

Petra: One way of getting these ideas is through technology seminars, where we invite universities or suppliers to present their latest technologies and trends.

Guy: We also have the innovation section on the Atlas Copco website, with an idea submission page, which is good for start-ups and others who are not working in the university network.

Mats: Yes, if you don’t know how to enter that world – whom to call and so on – it’s very good to check this website. It’s one way to reach Atlas Copco and know you will get a response.

Why should external people bring their ideas to Atlas Copco?

Mats: We can take the innovation to market faster.

Petra: We can spread the product all over the world with our global sales channels. We also have the customer contacts and can test a new technology with our customers early on.

Wim: Inventors tend to overestimate the value of the idea, and underestimate what needs to be done to bring an idea to market. At Atlas Copco we understand what it takes, not only from a technical viewpoint, but also in dimensions such as design, testing, manufacturing, marketing, sales and service. We can provide a multidimensional appreciation of their idea – something they cannot do alone, for the most part. For example, we have launched a series of turbo compressors that are more compact, supplies air and is more energy efficient. We started with this innovation by investing in fluid dynamics over a long period of time. Because of this, today we can build machines that perform much better.

“The time when you could develop everything yourself is definitely over.” Guy Laps, Technology and Innovation Manager

ROUNDTABLE PARTICIPANTS


Wim Bouwen, Vice President R&D and Shared Engineering Services, Compressor Technique

Petra Kastensson, Program Manager Pre-Development, Industrial Technique

Mats Källman, Vice President Engineering Services, Mining and Rock Excavation Technique

Guy Laps, Technology and Innovation Manager, Construction Technique

Other Global Research and development