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Innovate Or Perish - Introducing The Innovation Awards

February - 2010
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2009 was undoubtedly the most financially challenging year of most of our careers.  Some of the more established businesses fell by the wayside.  Those of us who survived to see the dawn of a new decade did so because we tightened our belts until it hurt.  We cut back hours, we reduced or eliminated bonuses, dropped holiday parties and most of us reduced staff.  We scrutinized every facet of our operations and business in a quest to squeeze just a little more out of every component of the company’s activities.

Last year reminds me of an experience I had early in my career.   I started in coatings industry in 1978 as a technician in a powder coating laboratory.  My employer was The Glidden Paint Company and it was owned by the SCM Corporation.  By the time the 1980’s rolled around, SCM was by far the world leader in typewriter technology.  Problem was that the personal computer revolution was gaining traction.  SCM thought that they could compete with this young office technology upstart however they were sadly mistaken. They thought PC’s would cost too much.  They were too complicated for the average person.  So they stubbornly stuck to their guns by improving and innovating the technology they knew.   They incorporated word processing software into their mechanical machines.  They developed the best ribbon technology.  They made typewriters faster, sleeker and lighter.  They even moved manufacture from their base in Cortland, NY to Singapore.

In spite of all the development work and innovation SCM poured into their typewriter technology, they could not stem the tide created by personal computers.  By 1995 SCM declared bankruptcy. Glidden was spun off from SCM in 1987 and eventually became part of Akzo-Nobel’s coatings group.  Akzo continues to innovate in the coatings and other fields of technology.

The valuable lesson I learned from SCM’s demise is that you can’t just tinker with what’s right in front of you and expect to survive.  Eventually technologies wane and are superseded by an innovation beyond refinement of the status quo.  Just as the typewriter became obsolete, so does finishing technology.  Alkyd paints and hexavalent chrome plating won’t go on forever.  Nudging old technology won’t secure your future in the finishing industry.

After such a challenging year as 2009, maybe you feel it’s time to sit back and coast for a while.   I suggest a different course of action.  Now, more than ever, is the time to innovate.  Last year most of us were compelled to reduce our R&D budget.  Maintaining existing customers with current technology was tough enough.  Whether it is new products or process technology it is time to think outside the box.  Toss aside conventional ways of finishing and strive to innovate.  Incremental changes in technology won’t be enough to survive in the global playground in which we live.  Not only do we have to do it cheaper, faster and better, but we also have to keep it clean and green. 

The staff at Finishing Talk feels it is important to recognize the technical achievements that change our industry.  Accordingly we have established the FT Innovation Awards.

In an industry as diverse as ours we would like to award the innovators in these four key areas:

  • Metal Finishing (plating, anodizing, mass finishing, etc) material technology
  • Organic Finishing (industrial paint and powder coatings ) material technology
  • Metal Finishing process and/or equipment technology
  • Organic Finishing process and/or equipment technology

Technology will be judged based on technical innovation, commercial relevance and environmental friendliness. You can find a submission on the bulletin boards.
Please look at what you have done over the past year to advance finishing technology and let us know about it.  We will be presenting the awards at the Southern Metal Finishing Conference being held in Charleston, SC on October 3-5, 2010.