Innovation in Chemical Engineering | AIChE

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Innovation in Chemical Engineering

February
2020

The concept of innovation goes beyond the pursuit of new products — all stakeholders need to be involved.

It seems just about everyone today is talking about innovation and how important it is for companies to grow and survive. Hundreds of books and thousands of papers have been written about innovation, but many tend to focus on techniques to generate ideas for innovative products. Most miss the basic fact that innovation goes well beyond the invention of new products.

The chemical process industries (CPI) and the chemical engineering profession are not always viewed by the general public as being very innovative fields. This perception may have some validity if we compare the CPI with the so-called technology sector. Ongoing developments in electronics and computers tend to bring about changes at a rapid pace, and as such, the related businesses and commercialized products transform themselves both quickly and constantly. The chemical engineering contributions — such as scaleup, plant design, plant operation, and distribution — that are required to move those promising new developments toward commercial-scale production are often invisible. For example, for smartphones, the development and mass production of better materials for the screen and body, improved electronic materials, and longer-lasting batteries require many chemical engineering innovations.

Furthermore, the general public does not understand the key role chemical engineering innovation plays in providing food, water, energy, and goods to consumers. To remain viable and competitive, the CPI must innovate every day — beyond just standard research and development (R&D) activities.

Companies throughout the CPI cannot afford to ignore opportunities for innovation. This article explains why organizations must make innovation a priority and discusses how companies can rethink their innovation strategies — moving beyond the pursuit of new products and services. A more-holistic view of innovation considers the entire consumer experience and the company’s image and workforce.

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