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Friday, 05 June 2020

Innovations in everyday business: Mission impossible!

Thursday, 11 December 2014 | Posted by: Sonja Schulte, European Coatings Journal

The editorial staff have just finished putting together the programme for the EC CONGRESS. This, Europe’s biggest congress on coatings technology, will offer 144 presentations on the latest technologies and developments that can be used by paint makers to research innovations and develop products. Too often, though, research and development work takes a back seat to everyday business (handling queries, troubleshooting, etc), with the result that many innovative ideas simply fall by the wayside. I have set to wondering if that might threaten the competitiveness of the coatings industry in western Europe in the long term.

The idea that competition is growing tougher and tougher is nothing new. For some, competition from abroad, especially Asia, is a cause for concern. Others are convinced that Western Europe is still a coatings technology leader. However, that leadership could easily be lost. As Handelsblatt, a German daily, recently reported:

 ".. in the past year, 2.2 trillion dollars’ worth of goods (including pharmaceuticals) were produced by the world’s chemical companies. With sales of barely 162 billion dollars, Germans have a global market share of 7.4 percent – and have just been overtaken by the Chinese….”

When it comes to global patent applications, too, Asian countries such as China, Japan and South Korea are streets ahead of Germany and other Western European countries.

As product life cycles grow shorter and shorter, time to market is of the essence for new, innovative products. The coatings industry is no different in this regard. It needs to allocate a sizable proportion of its sales to research and development and to provide its staff with the necessary capability to innovate. The reality in many SME paint makers is that the R&D department does not exist primarily to do research and development, but is also responsible for quality assurance, application technology, customer troubleshooting, etc. Too often, staff are too busy doing lab work to find the time to engage in intensive research, attend conferences and workshops and see what’s happening in the coatings world. And yet, SMEs could speed up the innovation process from start to finish by taking the time to make such an investment.

This situation always reminds me of the story of the woodcutter:

A walker sees a woodcutter chopping a huge pile of wood. The woodcutter is making slow progress because the axe he is using is dull. So the walker asks him why he doesn’t sharpen the axe. The woodcutter points to the pile of unchopped wood in front of him, and says: "That’s obvious. Can’t you see I’ve no time!”

I believe that by making a timely investment in time – visiting the EC CONGRESS – you will find the inspiration for the next innovation for you to research and bring to market.

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Sonja Schulte
European Coatings Journal
Sonja Schulte
Editor-in-Chief, Science & Technology
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