Sometimes protecting intellectual property creates barriers to external co-operation. Dr. Arndt Schlosser, Director of R&D Processes at Wacker Chemie AG is particulary keen on the exchange of ideas and knowledge between co-workers.
WACKER is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. What do you think forms the innovation ability of your group, especially in view of its long history?
WACKER has been characterized by entrepreneurship from the beginning . We have also had the courage to innovate and to implement. This, coupled with strong employee loyalty, and WACKER loyalty to its workforce, has made the company what it is today.
You run innovation processes from five business divisions. How does that work?
Firstly, you have to know that in addition to the five business areas, there is a central area conducting research and development. This, first and foremost, concentrates on basic research. The projects are designed to prepare the future of the next three to ten years for WACKER. The content itself is derived from Megatrends, such as E-mobility. In contrast, the business units focus on developments that are closely aligned to specific requirements of customers and the market needs of the next two to three years.
So, basic research is carried out in the central area, but how do you evaluate what is relevant for WACKER?
We filter out which projects we want to tackle with the help of pre-assessment studies on the feasibility and evaluation of various ideas from the megatrends we have chosen. A research project then gets started in the central area. The size of the addressable market, the market potential and market access are considered. We review the status of the project once or twice a year. If a project is successfully completed, one or more development projects are created in a respective business unit.
How do you deal with projects that don’t achieve the expected objectives?
Then we phase the project out, that is, we bring all studies, analyzes, and other activities to a conclusion as quickly as possible. This includes the research activities completed to date so that patent positions are protected on the work already done.
Does WACKER sell such patent positions in terms of Open Innovation?
We aim for our investments to pay for themselves which also includes selling the rights to intellectual property. In practice though, finding suitable buyers can be a challenge!
According to your company’s Code of innovation, you are involved with universities as well as customers in the innovation process.
That’s right. In 2013, we colloborated with over 50 universities. We also support The Institute of Silicon Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich.
What are the opportunities, challenges and limitations of this type of cooperation?
The opportunities are endless. We have access to scientific knowledge, and students have access to an institution with the strong support and the possibilities of a major corporation. We are bridging the gap for graduates. Contract negotiations with universities are complex though because they are under pressure to publish lots of material and we want to protect our intellectual property rights.
How do you feel about open idea platforms?
WACKER works in various publicly funded projects. Of particular interest here is the exchange with partners along the entire value-added chain, so that a valuable and viable solution for everyone is developed. When the protection of our own ideas is crucial, we prefer to promote communication between employees. Wacker puts great store in this. People who have worked in various departments in central positions, are ideally placed to pass on their knowledge. The best solutions are often found in informal meetings or coffee breaks. We also encourage the exchange with regular internal seminars and symposia in which individual researchers or groups present their ideas and findings to their colleagues.
Do you have an example?
Yes, both WACKER POLYMERS and WACKER SILICONES work on Adhesives. Exchanging information and experiences mean that work is not duplicated. Solutions are transferred which accelerates development.
Innovations often arise from unexpected situations. What is the most bizarre experience in your career that has produced an innovation?
I don’t know whether I’d say bizarre, but sometimes there are just happy accidents. We have, for example, driven the development of polysilicon in order to serve the semiconductor industry but another very attractive market for this is now in the solar industry.
About the interviewee:
Dr. Arndt Schlosser began his career at Wacker Chemie in 1998 as Quality Manager and has since held different positions in research, marketing and supply chain at home and abroad. A Ph.D. chemist, Schlosser has been responsible for research and development processes within the Wacker Group since 2012.
ILI CONSULTING AG thank you for the interview.