(45b) Open Innovation Experiences: Delivering Success and Avoiding Pitfalls | AIChE

(45b) Open Innovation Experiences: Delivering Success and Avoiding Pitfalls


Dever, J. - Presenter, Mid-Atlantic Technology, Research & Innovation Center (MATRIC)
Open Innovation Experiences: Delivering Success and Avoiding Pitfalls

Open Innovation with a strategic partner can bring your technology to the market quickly and efficiently. However, if not managed well it will lead to project stagnation and missed opportunities. MATRIC has collaborated in over 200 projects with over 100 different customers. The projects have had varying degrees of technical and commercial success, and the learnings highlight key considerations in executing open innovation development opportunities.

I will discuss three projects that used three different approaches to open innovation and how these impacted the project execution and success. The three projects had several similarities:

  • the early stage technology discovery work was completed before contacting MATRIC
  • the customers wanted to maintain full ownership of the intellectual property
  • they didn’t have the resources (people and/or facilities) that could be used to develop the technology
  • they had external stakeholders in the success of the project who were not engaged directly in the technology development but did contribute time, money or resources to the development effort.

The first customer is a mid-sized company developing a specialty product that would be differentiated in the market by its performance, and could have additional value to the company through the use of lower cost raw materials than their current alternatives. Their open innovation challenge was to reduce the process costs, both operating and capital costs, primarily through an increase in the catalyst productivity. The customer had identified the molecule of interest internally, but did not have the catalysis skills and process development capabilities to prepare for commercialization. Additionally, the target consumers of the product would need to be involved in the final qualification. MATRIC formed a joint technology team with the customer that included the catalyst and process expertise of MATRIC with the product development team from the customer. The team worked very closely together, with weekly meetings and frequent visits by the customer to MATRIC labs to observe the progress and discuss the results. The team was very successful, achieving a 100-fold increase in catalyst productivity well ahead of the project schedule. The consumer of the final product was engaged partially throughout the work, but a critical product test was not completed until late in the technology development. The test results indicated that product needed to be reformulated to avoid adverse effects. This resulted in reworking the catalyst development , with the resulting increased development costs and delayed implementation.

The second customer was interested in developing technology that would create new markets for its product. Earlier work at the laboratory bench scale had demonstrated a technology that could be used to produce an existing commodity product, however the process economics needed to improve. A team was formed of MATRIC experts in process chemistry and process development, along with representatives of the customer and experts familiar with the customer’s suppliers and their related technologies. The team had virtual meetings biweekly with periodic face-to-face meetings that included the team members and representatives of the customer’s suppliers. The project started with a techno-economic assessment to understand the critical areas for technology development that will lead to project success. It has developed from a bench scale to a larger-scale laboratory study to better understand some of the process challenges and prepare for pilot plant demonstration of the technology. The team communications have allowed the project to progress rapidly, but in a disciplined manner, and to be ready for a smooth transition to the next phase of the technology development.

The final customer was interested in leveraging their technology to create a new path to an existing product for a key consumer. Although their process was a key linchpin in the manufacturing process for the ultimate product, process discovery and development was needed to produce the final product. The customer worked with another research organization to develop the process on a bench-scale, but needed more capabilities to scale the process to a pilot plant and produce large market development samples. The customer shared with MATRIC the reports from the other process development organization and looked to MATRIC to design the pilot plant facility from these reports. Clarifications of the technology were handled by the customer, who would occasionally contact the previous research organization when necessary. This slowed the transfer of the technology and eventually led to a late learning that significantly impacted the process design, requiring redesign of whole sections of the pilot plant with significant increases in the engineering and construction costs. The delays and increases impacted the market development opportunity, and eventually the project was placed on hiatus.

The key learnings from these projects are:

  • It is important that in open innovation the customers and research organization must form a partnership with close communication
  • All key stakeholders need to be represented in the project to make certain that the process development delivered meets all expectations
  • Technology transfer between project stages needs to be thorough. This is readily achieved by having continuity within the process development team, and especially if the open innovation partner is capable of carrying the project through the multiple phases.


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