“In reality, we would not be here today if innovation wasn’t at the core of who we are.” – Regan Gallo, Operations Director and Industry 4.0 Project Lead, Certain-Teed Corp., Saint-Gobain
When asked to describe a company that’s more than 350 years old, the term innovative is not often one that comes to mind. However, Saint-Gobain has withstood the test of time by taking a strategic approach to boosting innovation. To move their business into the next 350 years, the company is focused on their customers and the products they will demand due to the impact of global paradigm shifts: digitalization, urbanization, resource scarcity and recycling, climate change, global economic growth, and new mobilities such as ride sharing, electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles.
As described in a case study presented at the Manufacturing Leadership Summit by Regan Gallo, the company has developed a manufacturing-focused innovation initiative that has shown results. Saint-Gobain filed for nearly 400 patents in 2018, and one out of four products the company sells today didn’t exist five years ago. Not bad for any company, much less one whose first project was a seventeenth-century commission from Louis XIV for the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.
In 2014 the company began to discuss ways that it could embrace emerging technologies and the industrial digital revolution and determined that it could lead much of its innovation efforts through manufacturing. With more than 1,000 manufacturing facilities worldwide, Saint-Gobain determined it was best to develop innovation efforts at a few selected sites that demonstrated a mix of the right culture and readiness. The focus is on establishing and developing best practices at these sites with projects that cover a wide array of the company’s product portfolio, with an eye toward rolling out the lessons learned across all manufacturing operations throughout the enterprise.
The company also promoted internal collaboration through its first ever North American Manufacturing Summit, a live event where the company’s manufacturing employees from North American sites came together to meet and share ideas.
Not forgetting external sources of innovation, Saint-Gobain also looks for mission-aligned startups they might be able to further develop, and has introduced an Essentials of Manufacturing career development program to embed college students into operations.
By keeping attuned to current and future challenges and developing both internal and external collaboration initiatives, Saint-Gobain is positioning itself for another few centuries in business.