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“Right on the pulse of industry”

How innovative new products can be developed

Since the last K in 2016, Röchling Industrial has undergone a fundamental change in product development: the Corporate R&D department was newly established and Industry Management was introduced. In the following interview, Dr. Axel Höfter, General Manager Corporate R&D, and Peter Eckerstorfer, Head of Industry Management, talk about why both areas play a decisive role in the development of new products, what form cooperation takes and what they would like from customers.

In conversation: Dr. Axel Höfter, General Manager Corporate R&D (left), and Peter Eckerstorfer, Head of Industry Management

Corporate R&D and Industry Management did not even exist at the last K Fair in 2016. Why are both areas playing a decisive role in product development at Röchling Industrial today?

Dr. Axel Höfter: We would like to completely rethink the entire topic of development and are repositioning ourselves to do so. The objectives of the central Corporate R&D, which was founded in 2018, are to pool and coordinate all development activities at
Röchling Industrial and to pursue and work on overriding development focuses. Each site has its own R&D department. This is also strategically intended to preserve the independence and high flexibility of the decentralised units. They know their customers,
products and markets best. 

Peter Eckerstorfer: Röchling has always had an industrial focus and it already had a research and development department; after all, Röchling is regarded as one of the plastics industry‘s leaders in innovation. By introducing Industry Management at the beginning of 2018, the focus has now increased even further. We no longer think from the point of view of materials, but from the point of view of the customer in their respective industry. To date, our business units have marketed their products independently of one other based on materials. Industry Management means that we are now pooling activities to achieve greater customer benefit. We have global contacts for all target industries who ideally come directly from the respective industry and speak their language.

We would like to completely rethink the entire topic of development.

Dr. Axel Höfter, General Manager Corporate R&D

What are the tasks of Industry Management and Corporate R&D?

Dr. Axel Höfter: First and foremost, Corporate R&D is tasked with the structured processing of medium- and long-term developmental focuses. To this end, we leverage synergies, avoid redundancies, record existing knowledge and make it available.

Peter Eckerstorfer: The essential task of our Industry Managers is to know today what customers in the respective industry will expect from their suppliers tomorrow. To this end, our Industry Managers are in intensive dialogue with our customers, discussing their applications and requirements. I see my role in this as being like the number 10 in football: the playmaker. This player coordinates, pulls the strings and gets the players into strong positions.

Why are Corporate R&D and Industry Management interdependent?

Peter Eckerstorfer: Innovation needs both. An idea from an industry may be very interesting, but how do you develop this idea into a finished solution?

Dr. Axel Höfter: In a nutshell, innovation consists of four steps: the generation of ideas, the selection of suitable ideas, the development of products, services or processes and finally the market launch. Development is therefore, if you like, at the centre of the innovation process. Again, Industry Management‘s task essentially includes generating ideas, as well as the market launch. 

Innovation does not come about in the laboratory, but through personal dialogue with the customer, which formulates their requirements and challenges. How can Industry Management and Corporate R&D work together to develop innovative new products

Dr. Axel Höfter: We must consistently embody the idea of customer proximity. This is the key to innovativeness. We will only be successful in the long term if we work in close partnership with our customers. However, it is very important to focus on defined strategic development goals to prevent chasing every idea without any direction.

Peter Eckerstorfer: This only works if we directly take the pulse of the respective industry together. Workshops together with our partners and at the OEMs with local developers usually provide the starting point for innovations. The key objectives of Corporate R&D can be combined with those of our customers, and we are anyway very familiar with the basic needs of the individual industries thanks to our industry focus.

Application technology is yesterday‘s news; we now have to be able to improve our customers‘ processes to make their products more innovative. 

Peter Eckerstorfer, Head of Industry Management

How can customers benefit from the interaction between Industry Management and Corporate R&D?

Peter Eckerstorfer: We want to create competitive advantages for our customers. Application technology is yesterday‘s news; we now have to be able to understand and improve our customers‘ processes to make their products more innovative.

Dr. Axel Höfter: Our customers benefit from improved penetrability when it comes to making their needs and ideas part of our development activities. By closely integrating Industry Management and Corporate R&D, we combine the necessary customer focus with a fast reaction time. 

What do Industry Management and Corporate R&D want from their customers?

Dr. Axel Höfter: Demanding tasks! And the readiness for long-term and partnershipbased cooperation.

Peter Eckerstorfer: Challenge! I would like to discuss ideas with our customers that are visionary. And one thing is clear: When you think plastic, think Röchling!

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