Day 1: Looking in from the outside
Moderator Bert van Loon crafted Day 1’s working programme as a view into the tape industry from the perspective of outside experts, “people that can challenge and perhaps criticise your industry, or show you a future that is not just amusing but challenging.” Following presentations which covered possible use of tapes in automotive and autonomous cars, paediatric heart surgery, academic engineering education and 3D printing, Mr. Van Loon, a marketing innovation expert and independent strategist, literally got the audience moving with his first challenge.
Can tape solutions replace at least 50% of current mechanical fastening methods in industrial design, both technically and economically?
The audience had to signal their point of view by moving left for “yes” and right for “no”. Most said yes, although there were many people who stood in the middle. “That means there is a huge market we’re standing for,” Mr. Van Loon remarked.
In order to do that, of course, you have to understand your customers. Most of the audience indicated that the adhesive tape industry should invest heavily to understand the changing needs of customers of the industry: product designers, mechanical engineers, etc. Or, in short, you simply do not understand the needs of your customers today, and you really have to change that.
The future of high-end adhesive tape is not necessarily about bonding and fixing things. It is about adding new features and technologies, like developing tapes to conduct electricity to heat car windows, to serve as batteries in your phone, or to take on medical features such as securing electrodes and grounding pads in addition to gauze and wounds.
Mr. Van Loon observed that collaborative innovation was a major theme in the day’s presentations. Repairing children’s hearts with a newly developed adhesive patch, 3D printing a building, changing traditional education—these undertakings require increasing openness in working together, even though collaboration can be really complicated. The audience concurred.
If you agree that you need to invest more in knowing and understanding the needs of industry for multifunctional solutions, how can the tape industry get to learn the audience of engineers better? Tape professionals seem to meet up all the time. Why don’t they work together more to collaborate on meeting the needs of engineers? Why is this such a challenge?
Gökhan Tunçdöken, vice president of automotive technology, sales original equipment at Bosch, replied that there is no company that is able to develop something by themselves. There is always co-operation. Today’s systems are more complex, however. That is why each discipline needs to understand all the others. And this goes for the tape industry: they need to understand the expectations of OEMs in product development.
Is innovation moving at the speed of light in the 3D printing world?
“Not really,” said Hedwig Heinsman, co-founder and partner at DUS Architects. It used to take five minutes to print a book; now it takes one. In the end, their prime interest lies in crunching the supply chain, linking end user directly to production. If in a little while she were able just to attach her staircase to the ceiling with tape, that would be great! What they are really looking for is a much easier way to facilitate construction. As an industry, it has become much more accessible, but at the same time, applications need to be engineered that are extremely safe. There are many opportunities there.
What about intellectual property issues? With the speed of collaborative engineering increasing, who pays for what up front and who owns what at the end? How do you deal with that process?
“A year ago I would have said that was super easy,” replied Ms. Heinsman. But how it is arranged now is that they make “friend agreements”, i.e. “friends” under certain terms, and take it from there. If you limit your efforts to collaborate on innovation because of these formalities, you will not succeed.
“Did you know about tape before you worked in 3D printing?” asked Astrid Lejeune, secretary-general of Afera. Ms. Heinsman shared that DUS is working with a builder in Rijnmond that recommended they use tape to mount some solar panels. Only now is she becoming more familiar with how tape is used. “It is great, because it is a bit like Velcro,” she said. “You can push something on with it, and you can take it off again.”
“But how does your materials process work then?” wondered Ms. Lejeune. “Do you open source your challenges, such as something in which adhesive tape could serve as a solution, and have everyone bring their ideas to the table?” In Ms. Heinsman’s case, they start with a hunch that they would like to investigate something, and those offering solutions come to DUS, and together they plan out an investigative project. For instance, in the case of how to mount solar panels, DUS were exploring their options when the right person came by with the right solution at the right time.
Day 2: Looking out from the inside
Jean-Loup Masson put Day 2’s working programme together as a view on the outside world from within the tape industry. Mr. Masson, who is director of R&D at Novacel, explained that the individual planets of tape companies vary in size, and they are constantly evolving. “We want to explore new worlds, to innovate, to improve our environment,” he said. “But we are constantly dealing with shifts in the market.” The costs of raw materials, just like the economies and currencies of countries, fluctuate. And if the raw material you need is expensive, will you have enough resources to produce what you want to produce? How do you regulate production? He talked about channel partners and customers out “on other planets”. You want to venture out to their planets and to expand your world. “It is complicated,” he concluded.
Following presentations on the global economy and tape market trends, innovation, and raw materials, Mr. Masson introduced the first topic of debate to the tape industry captains:
What we have said today is that we believe a lot of growth in tapes will be due to additional features, in thinking about more than just bonding and fastening. Do you think the future of tapes lies in just tapes or more in services or features connected to tapes?
Dr. Thomas Hille, director of R&D at LTS Lohmann Therapie-Systeme AG, stated that service as a quality issue is more important to his company. He stated in his presentation that they need to fulfil the requirements of the authorities, and that can only be done by their vendors, whom they would like to maintain their consistency of supply. The future for tape suppliers in the transdermal or pharmaceutical field will not lie in the quality of the product itself, but in managing regulatory affairs, which are not only coming to the fore in Europe and the U.S. but in Asia and Latin America. So the future will lie in good regulatory support and innovation.
Martijn Verhagen, laboratory manager of solvent-based technologies at Lohmann GmbH & Co. KG, said, on the other hand, that there are shades of grey. “There are areas that we have not approached yet that lie in the future, but nowadays everyone expects a certain service level and additional product features.”
Dr. Tobias Blömker of tesa SE, agreed with Mr. Verhagen: “I would think that the specialty tapes we are producing right now are so complex, have so many functionalities, that we need to support our customers heavily in implementing them into their processes. But at the end of the day, it is a tape that forms the base of the solution.”
Does someone feel strongly that we have to keep doing what we are doing now, only extending our sales territories? Or is there someone who is only into developing novelty products?
Jeff Burrington, application specialist at HB Fuller, commented that there seemed to be a disconnect between the market areas where the audience feels it can expand into. Further to this, in areas such as 3D printing, there is a feeling that if we do not collectively move fast enough to educate, R&D will simply pass tape companies by. If we are not in a position to increase the tape footprint in areas such as aeronautics, automotive and construction, a technology like 3D printing will start to provide fastening capabilities where adhesive tapes are no longer required.
Mr. Masson tied this into the next topic statement which was related to partners and how to move quickly and harness the trends:
We all want to explore, do more, find partners. Does anyone feel like they are alone in their collaboration, like they are doing all the heavy-lifting?
At HB Fuller, Lydia Garyfallou explained, they have an adhesives academy based in Germany. HB Fuller have labs in France and Portugal where they can provide assistance and innovative production for their customers in the form of tests, coatings, laminating, strength measurement, and full reports. So, yes, many companies do this for customers on their own, but suppliers could assist in reducing the amount of work required in developing a solution and offer comparison of different alternatives to save customers time and money.
Mr. Masson asked Dr. Blömker if at a large company like tesa where you have everything you really need help in identifying and developing new things? He responded that they are not alone “on their planet”, so they need to understand their customers, get information from their suppliers. “So, yes, I think just being in your own glass bottle is not enough anymore,” Dr. Blömker remarked. “You have to interact with the environment, and this is fruitful for all sides of the supply chain.”
“You have shown that you have lots of partners at certain stages,” Mr. Masson said to Mr. Verhagen. “Isn’t it complicated? Do you have enough support at each step of development?” In terms of a need for partners in innovation, Mr. Verhagen feels that the adhesives industry is pretty co-operative already from supplier to end user. Sometimes co-operation starts a little bit too late however, “but we do not and cannot do it all ourselves.”
Do partners take you to the places you want to go? Do they listen to you?
“I am constantly asked how long it takes to develop something at LTS or in the pharmaceutical industry,” said Dr. Hille. “This depends—usually between five and 10 years.” If partners are not willing to go such a long way, they cannot do their job. LTS has strong partners, from suppliers to clients.
What more do you need from other people, companies, Afera?
Ms. Lejeune commented that 3D printing should be seen as an opportunity and not a threat to the tape industry. Perhaps Afera should organise a focus group , including not just tape manufacturers but raw materials and other suppliers to collaborate on exploring the opportunities that are out there for expanding the tape market? By a show of hands, most of the audience indicated that they saw 3D printing more as an opportunity than a threat. Mr. Masson remarked that under Afera, the industry should get together on following the trends, from supplier to end user, as this is key to growing the tape business for everyone.
“Innovation” is a nice word, and everyone likes it, but at the end of the day innovation is just luck, because you never know what is going to pan out, to really work.
Mr. Verhagen said that he agreed with this statement, because there are factors you cannot control in your innovation process. He then asked Nathalie Barrois, process engineer at Renault, “If my partners and I develop a new tape according to your specifications, would you be willing to test it? I would think not.” Ms. Barrois answered that it would depend on whether she had a co-operation agreement on innovation with Lohmann and that of course she would test it. It was important to note, however, that Renault’s specifications are constantly evolving.
“It is not just the tape manufacturer or the adhesive manufacturer, it is step after step after step,” said Mr. Verhagen. You have to be in the lucky position to meet the right person at the right time to succeed in the innovation process. There is a factor of luck there, because you might talk to a customer at the wrong time, in which case the chance for innovation would be lost. So you cannot plan to plan anything in innovation.
Mr. Burrington asked, “Don’t some professionals have insights that are not measurable? Have instincts based on a knowledge base?” He explained that on the one hand, you have your serendipity, your accidents. On the other hand, some people have an instinct for bringing about happy accidents. The question is, how do you recognise this instinct?
“You have to have the instinct to point yourself in the right direction,” commented Ms. Garyfallou. “You might then get lucky by hitting the result you are after, but you might be unlucky and miss your desired result by a hair. But the feeling that you are headed in the right direction has to be there from the start.”
If most people agree that innovation is based on luck, should you do as many different things as possible to increase your chances of success?
According to Dr. Blömker, who has been in chemical research for over 10 years, you can increase the probability of being lucky by doing good research—performing a lot of experiments—but ultimately luck is a factor in reaching the day when the results prove your idea works. Instinct points you in the right direction. Linking a successful product to a real innovation takes even more luck, as much as is required in meeting the right person at the right time. The point is that you have to move—you cannot just stand there and do nothing. But sometimes moving, doing something new, is harder than it sounds.
Dr. Hille, who has been in R&D for 30 years, said that without luck you cannot innovate, however well you plan, but planning needs to be there, so it is about both. Omurden Cekerek of Arizona Chemical offered that the answer lies in both innovation and luck. Innovation is just a matter of time and has nothing to do with luck. But if you want innovation to be commercially viable and successful, then you need luck. Luck is part of the equation, Mr. Burrington added, but without significant iteration and scientific discipline behind it, luck can run out.
What is more important? Trying to plan for the future, figuring out what the trends will be? Or carefully managing the present so you know your business will survive through tomorrow morning?
Ms. Garyfallou explained that planning for the future—making Plan A and Plan B—is critical and should be every business’ main focus. The rest is daily routine, managing the present. With the shortage of raw materials last year and many of the crises of recent years, including that in Greece, she feels that as large companies they should not predict what will happen in the future but prepare themselves for what will come by putting plans into place, maintaining sources, innovating, moving forward—in this way minimising all the risks.
“I think this is difficult to answer,” Dr. Blömker countered. Personally he thinks the future is very unpredictable, as evidenced by a difference of 2% in different growth predictions for China conveyed in presentations that morning. You can have theories on what the future will bring, but do not forget that the world is prone to change, and you have to adapt to it. Most adaptation is done though on a daily, monthly or yearly basis. Planning 10 years ahead is too difficult.
Lutz Jacob, formerly of ExxonMobil and consultant to Afera, commented that first you must manage the present, then do a bit of looking into the future and deciding where to go next. But managing the present is most important; otherwise you will not need to predict anything.
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