In the run-up to the CIEX 2019 conference, we caught up with Dr. Martin Vollmer, CTO at Clariant who will be revealing his secrets of driving efficiency and innovation in the chemical industry on October 9 in Frankfurt. We had a few questions for him related to his session, to warm up a bit for the event.
Martin Vollmer: Nowadays, chemical companies are facing an increasingly challenging environment. Markets require more holistic solutions instead of focus being solely on the development of new molecules or products. Climate change, resource scarcity, technological advances, and rising customer expectations are forcing chemical companies to adjust to new realities, with the result that many are restructuring, increasing customer focus – and perhaps most importantly, creating distinctive capabilities that will provide a competitive advantage. Encouraged by the so called digital-based Fourth Industrial Revolution, this change is taking place at unprecedented speed. Chemical companies must be prepared for this change and embrace it as a chance for growth. Thinking outside of the box, openness to new ways of collaboration and keeping pace by increasing efficiency in the innovation process are essential prerequisites to master the challenges and to remain innovative at the same time.
Martin Vollmer: The new requirements discussed above necessitate more holistic approaches. The traditional, incremental approaches to change no longer enable the industry to achieve time-related and technical goals due to increasing regulation, political targets, public opinion and the pace of technological development. The chemical industry has been and still is undoubtedly a very versatile enabler for tackling future challenges across a multitude of industry sectors, but we cannot simply lean back and rely on the fact that everything went well in the past and will – undoubtedly- in the future. This talk will show our perspective on the topic and first initiatives established at Clariant.
Martin Vollmer: CIEX brings together a high number of industry leaders and experts from various fields and is thus a great platform for networking along and across the value chain. The event fosters collaboration as an essential element to innovation. The huge variety of topics and themes sets new impulses and stimulates thinking outside of the box. I expect an inspiring agenda on latest trends combined with in-depth discussions with known, but also a quite high number of new contacts.
Martin Vollmer: Historically, chemical companies have been slow in adapting and implementing the latest technologies, they preferred to focus on incremental innovation and core operational improvements such as operational efficiency and productivity, rather than disruptive approaches. Now, fostered by digitalization, many chemical companies are starting to develop highly innovative holistic solutions, witnessing a new dawn of collaboration and integration across silos of all manner of internal departments and external partners. The global chemical industry has reached a crossroad and faces a transformational change. We now need to maximize the synergies that chemistry has within any productive ecosystem, in conjunction with other relevant and productive disciplines. Beyond product and process innovation, this includes service and business model innovation, with digitalization driving those developments and tremendously speeding up the process.
Martin Vollmer: Chemical companies must foster flexibility to complement internal capabilities with external ones. Chemical Boards and top management teams need to overcome concerns about intellectual property and data ownership to leverage the full potential of collaboration in new ecosystems. At the same time, industry leaders need to challenge their organizational set-up to attract the right talents for the speedy and digital chemical future ahead. Failing to recognise the need to hire cutting edge, technology-relevant talent and benignly ignoring to promote the skills of an existing workforce are the most common pitfalls in unsuccessful transformations. Organizational agility and fluidity in team working e.g. through virtual teams and the ability to innovate in a rapid, iterative, “fail-fast”, test-and-learn approach is seen as the way forward, rather than the old test-to-destruction method, with cascading layers of approvals.
Mr Vollmer, thank you very much for your time. We look forward to hearing more at CIEX 2019!
Hear more about innovation, digitalisation and sustainability strategies of the world’s leading chemical production companies at CIEX Europe 2019. Register today to meet and listen to speakers from BASF, Dow Chemical, DSM, Henkel, Clariant, Mitsubishi Chemical, Ashland, Covestro, Braskem, Sabic and many more. Register at ciex-eu.org.