Innovation is central to specialty chemicals firm Evonik Industries. The company, which employs over 33,000 staff the world over and trades on the Stock Exchange, is continuously exploring new ideas and concepts that would give them a competitive advantage. And as a technology-driven chemical giant, it thrives on collaborative innovation.
Dr Reza Ghahary is active in one of Evonik's many innovation initiatives as The Director of Innovation Networks & Communication, and as a key speaker at TechInnovation 2016, is responsible for various “unusual innovation partnerships” between Evonik and selected companies, majority of which are from non-chemical backgrounds. Evonik's innovative products have raked in sales of about €13.5 billion in 2015 and are being produced in production plants in 24 countries.
“Industry Cross Innovation” is part of Evonik's' Open Innovation (OI) activities. Evonik specialises in three product segments, namely Nutrition & Care, Resource Efficiency and Performance Materials. The Performance Materials segment, for example, produces polymer materials and intermediates, mainly for the agricultural, rubber and plastics industries. One of their proprietary solutions is Cyrolite, a type of medical-grade polymer used in intravenous and catheter accessories.
Dr Ghahary, who specialises in polymer chemistry and innovation management, has had over 20 years experience in his field. He is a firm believer in collaborative innovation as a strategic approach to boost the innovation power of companies.
This is especially so in today's chemical industry, which is facing some challenging changes right now, said Ghahary. The industry is undergoing consolidation, a sign of a slowdown in the chemicals market, with large companies merging with or acquiring other ones as a means to grow. The high profile Dow and Du Pont merger, which is reportedly worth US$130 billion, is an example. Also research & development, the core of any chemicals company, will gain more importance as the demand for new and innovative materials continues to grow.
Chemical companies are also looking for ways to help industries reduce their dependency on fossil fuels. These are also on the daily agendas of chemists, said Dr Ghahary. In response to such a trend, Evonik came up with Sepuran, a proprietary membrane made from a high-performance polymer with very high temperature and pressure resistance, to be used in biogas separation. The membrane helps to separate methane and carbon dioxide, allowing the former to be purified to more than 97 per cent.
External and internal crowdsourcing, co-creation initiatives with industry partners, technology scouting as well as cooperation with universities and calls for research proposals are some ways Evonik uses OI to innovate. Dr Ghahary's talk at TechInnovation 2016 will focus on OI drivers, approaches and on case examples. Insights on possible pitfalls and on cultural aspects of open innovation will also be discussed.
“Innovation today very often happens at the interface of industries, and very often the knowledge and competencies of just one company is not enough to be successful. Open innovation is to bring together all the expertise that is needed to be faster and more efficient as a company alone could be,” said Dr Ghahary.
“Only when companies intensively collaborate with all partners needed within a given value chain - suppliers, customers, customers-of-the-customers, original equipment manufacturers and even end consumers - they will be able to survive in a more and more global competition with new players never thought about before,” he noted.
Evonik has indeed established some very exciting innovation projects with some main players in the electronic, biotech, medical technology and white goods industry, said Dr Gharary. Some of these companies include Siemens' energy and healthcare units, as well as biotechnology firm Novozymes.
Dr Ghahary said Evonik will pursue new innovative partnerships with universities, one of which is University of Paderborn's Direct Manufacturing Research Center in Germany. Industry-on-campus and further public-private partnerships will be developed and established. “We will also continue to use the great potentials information and communications technology is offering in networking, in building innovation ecosystems and in collaboration,” he added.