Weinheim, October 24, 2013. A machine to butter bread, a moving bed or a telephone with integrated iron: Gyro Gearloose, the infamous Disney inventor, bubbles over with original ideas such as these. And original ideas also come easily to the Freudenberg associates Dr. Peter Kritzer, Dr. Bernd Schlesselmann and Dr. Robert Groten. Their innovative energy plays a decisive role in ensuring the long-term success of the internationally-active Freudenberg Group. Out of around 37,500 associates in 57 countries around the world, 2,200 work on innovative products in Gyro Gearloose’s footsteps. They help create tomorrow’s world: in the exciting field of medical technology through to the impregnation of textiles. Where do these ideas originate from? Which innovative products have been developed?
In the car - at home - in bed or during the coffee break: Kritzer seems to have ideas regardless of where he is. “The best ideas come to me quite spontaneously,” says the developer, who holds “Finding Ideas” workshops in the Innovation Center at the Freudenberg Sealing Technologies Business Group. “A relaxed atmosphere is important. Talking about new ideas with creative-thinking colleagues or my family lends momentum to the whole process.” Kritzer jots his ideas down on slips of paper, on the reverse of coupons - or he simply takes a photo of an article or object.
Over 100 of his ideas have already landed in the Idea Pool – a Group-wide collection of ideas – and many of them have led to the manufacture of new products, such as the development of new kinds of nonwovens that can be used as separators in lithium batteries. And he is currently working together with a customer on innovative fixing components for the cells in these batteries.
“In such a large company it’s important to think beyond the Business Group and to remain topic related. For example, to collect all the ideas relevant to themes such as batteries, rail or civil aviation,” explains Kritzer. He cannot tolerate hearing killer phrases or the premature rejection of ideas. He therefore likes using the so-called Walt Disney method, whereby an idea is evaluated by a dreamer, a realist and critic in a role play situation. The aim is to tease out the positive aspects of every idea.
Schlesselmann, Head of Medical Nonwovens Research and Development at the Freudenberg Nonwovens Business Group comes up with good ideas in the strangest of places - during a workshop, when talking with colleagues or under the shower. “A thorough analysis of the situation and targeted questions help in finding ideas,” explains Schlesselmann.
He is especially enthusiastic about ideas from which products have been manufactured. A new nonwoven wound care dressing was developed in this way in close cooperation with a customer that manufactures medical products. It consists of needle-loomed polymer staple fibers which can be equipped with an anti-bacterial coating. The nonwoven wound care dressing is manufactured in Weinheim. “The dressing is highly absorbent, retains its shape even under stress and absorbs secretions and bacteria,” according to Schlesselman. “Neither does it stick to the wound and it’s able to breathe.”
Whether listening to music, taking part in a discussion or reading a story in a book, Groten, the Head of Development of Freudenberg Evolon in Colmar, France, has the best ideas when he’s relaxing. In particular, he is able to think laterally in several dimensions and is also capable of original thought. “In my head I rewind in a story and then I travel in the opposite direction,” says Groten. Often it takes years before a product is developed from an initial idea. The Purtex success story began in 2008 with a simple idea. Today Purtex is a solvent-free polyurethane emulsion. The first outdoor jackets impregnated with Purtex will be available in the shops from spring 2014. Purtex is free of fluorocarbons – currently the subject of much discussion. “A developer is a visionary and an optimist,” says Groten.
A further product which Groten helped to develop: anti-allergic bed linen from Evolon. This is a textile which is soft, supple and lightweight at the same time as being hard-wearing. At first the fiber nonwoven was unable to be washed regularly. Together with his colleagues Groten was able to make the pores of the material smaller and the filaments as long as possible, to achieve the desired washability and impermeability for mites. Today Evolon is the first globally-certified, anti-allergic bed linen that can be washed regularly.
“Exchange of know-how with experts is also important for my work,” says Groten. Once a month he meets with developers. “Did you know there is an insect that produces thread from chitin in a flash spinning process? This process could aid us in finding out how such threads can be manufactured without solvent,” says Groten. “The task of a developer is to think about the day after tomorrow.”