Using science to improve peoples’ lives while at the same time constantly working to update the product line. These directives guide performance of the 8,200 professionals employed worldwide by the research and development unit (R&D) of the US company 3M. A presence in Brazil for 70 years, the company has a world-class facility in Sumaré, a city some 100 kilometers away from São Paulo. “It’s 3M’s main research laboratory in the southern hemisphere,” says Camila Cruz Durlacher, the unit’s 42-year-old R&D director in Brazil. The company makes a diversified product line that includes adhesives, industrial filters, dental resins, personal protection equipment (PPE), stethoscopes and power transmission cables in addition to the ubiquitous Post-It Notes, Scotch tape and Scotch-Brite sponges.
Proof that innovation really is a strategic guideline for the company’s business is the fact that 35% of its global sales come from products introduced in just the last five years – a percentage that is a bit lower in Brazil (28%). “Our global objective is to raise this rate to 40% by 2020. Aggressive product renovation is one of our trademarks,” says Durlacher, who earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry from the University of Campinas (Unicamp) and her master’s degree in materials science and engineering from the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar). The internal metrics that drive innovation at 3M was christened the New Product Vitality Index (NPVI), which measures the percentage of total sales from innovative products introduced all over the world in the past five years. Created by company technicians in the 1980s, today it is used by other companies such as Apple, Braskem, Dow and Natura, as a way to measure a company’s level of innovation.
|Number of employees
|Adhesives, industrial filters, resins, sponges, stethoscopes and power transmission cables
Constant renovation of the portfolio is rooted in new R&D investments. In 2015, they accounted for US$1.8 billion, equivalent to 6% of global sales, which reached US$30.3 billion. In Brazil, nearly 5% of income, which totaled R$3.5 billion in 2015, was allocated to R&D. The outcome of this investment translates to the launch of 80-100 new products in Brazil every year. “Over the years, we’ve applied for 5,800 patents (most for products developed in other countries) in Brazil. Since 2013, we’ve accounted for an annual average of 47 patents and industrial design registrations – nearly four per month,” says Durlacher. Globally, the company registered its 100,000th patent in 2015.
The company’s ongoing effort to create new technological solutions has been widely recognized. In 2015, 3M was named, for the third time, the most innovative company in Brazil, according to the Best Innovator survey conducted annually by the A.T. Kearney consulting firm, sponsored by the magazine Época Negócios. “3M Brazil is a source of new products for the firm’s subsidiaries elsewhere in the world. The company doesn’t just develop products; it develops complete systems around them,” wrote the editors of Best Innovator during the award presentation.
Innovations at 3M are classified as one of three categories: incremental, adjacent and radical. Those from class 3 related to incremental innovation includes examples of a new version of Scotch-Brite that works better. Those of class 4, adjacent innovations, are existing products or technologies that have undergone some sort of modification or are now targeting a new market. This can take the form of an industrial filter, developed by the company based on existing filters in their portfolio, but targeted to the Brazilian oil and gas market. The class 5 category related to radical innovation represents brand new items created to serve a market segment in which the company had not yet been active, such as a dust control spray.
In Brazil, new products are developed by a team of 162 professionals made up of chemists, engineers (mechanical chemical, materials and physics), biologists and pharmacologists. Half of them have completed or are pursuing graduate studies – 10% have doctorates, 24% have master’s degrees, 7% are pursuing master’s degrees and 8% are pursuing MBAs. The R&D team supports the company’s 23 business units in Brazil, the largest of which have dedicated laboratories. The group has five plants in São Paulo and one unit in Manaus, state of Amazonas, in addition to the companies Incavas, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and Capital Safety, in Paraná. In all, 3M Brazil employs 3,800 people.
With operations in over 70 countries, 3M was established in the United States in 1902 as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. – thus explaining the 3 Ms in its name. The mining business failed to prosper so a few years later, 3M began to manufacture abrasive materials. These were the first products for the company that today owns a portfolio that comprises over 55,000 items.
R&D operations in Brazil are some of the company’s oldest – commencing shortly after the 1946 establishment of 3M’s first plant in Brazil. “In the seven decades in which 3M has operated here, what changed was the way we organize R&D. In the past, the sector was tied to manufacturing. Then it started to report to the business divisions and then in the late 1990s, it was finally set up as an executive office of R&D,” Durlacher notes.
An important event in the trajectory of the multinational in Brazil occurred in 2008 with the inauguration of the Research & Development Laboratory in Sumaré (SP), which essentially brought together the innovative activities that had been carried out at the plant and became part of the global 3M R&D network comprised of 35 units. With this, the Brazil laboratory is now considered world-class, no longer focusing exclusively on the creation of products based on local demand, as in the past. Five years later, in 2013, the company invested US$13 million to expand the R&D Laboratory and its Customer Technical Center (CTC), which opened in 2005.
“The CTC is the link between R&D and the customer,” explains chemical engineer Edmilson Silva Cavalcanti, 51, in charge of developing new product applications for the industrial tapes and adhesives division. “There we do quality control on our products before final delivery, train customers and conduct validation tests,” says Cavalcanti, at 3M since 1990. Embraer, Natura, Vale and Santander are among the multinational’s main customers, along with such companies as automobile and home appliance manufacturers, pharmaceutical firms, hospitals, oil and gas, and food companies.
Noteworthy among the hundreds of innovations developed by 3M in Brazil is a dust control liquid aimed at the mining industry. The product is sprayed on the open iron ore freight cars, , forming a protective film that retains dust and prevents the loss of material along the way during train travel. “We created this product for the local market. Due to its success, it’s now produced and sold by other subsidiaries today,” says chemist João Roberto Talamoni, 56, one of 3M’s most experienced researchers. Employed by the company for 29 years, he is technical coordinator of one of 3M’s laboratories devoted to polymer synthesis. Another distinctive product developed in Brazil was a high-flow industrial filter designed for the oil and gas market. Local development was driven mainly by national content regulations in oil and gas market concession contracts, enacted for the purpose of increasing the domestic industry’s ability to participate on a competitive basis in exploration and production programs. “We led the development, which included a team involving 3M US, Mexico and Singapore,” underscores chemical engineer Rosana Emi Tamagawa, 43. “The product was born out of a need in the domestic market, but today it’s available all over the world.” Overseeing the laboratory that supports the 3M business division, Tamagawa is a graduate of the Lorena School of Engineering, earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Unicamp, as well as a post-doctorate from the Institute for Technological Research (IPT).
The team of Brazilian scientists has also been involved in developing a new generation of double-sided acrylic tapes known as VHB (very high bond). The product has superior bonding capacity for securing various materials, thus reducing application times. As a replacement for nails, rivets and screws, these tapes are used, for example, to secure glass building facades, panels on the bodywork of buses, parts in aircraft cabins and structural components in major home appliances. “In January 2016, I went to South Korea to meet with the global team involved in developing the new VHB tapes, scheduled for market launch in the second half of this year,” says 37-year-old chemical engineer Márcia Ferrarezi, who leads the project in Brazil and holds master’s and doctorates in materials sciences and engineering from the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar).Republish