At Pilkington we know that innovation isn’t just about new technology and scientific breakthroughs – it’s a mindset that drives everything we do across the business.
Developing new products is a huge part of the picture, of course, but we believe that innovation shouldn’t be confined to the lab alone. Innovation should run throughout the company, so that everyone sees the potential to do things better for our customers.
As the world changes at a rapid pace, glass manufacturers are adapting to ensure they can meet the needs of society – not just today, but into the future. That’s why we continually strive to discover new innovations in glass that will provide value to our customers, while also innovating in the way we provide our services and structure our business.
Here Shirley Sergeant, European R&D Manager and Global R&D Portfolio Manager for laminated and functional products, explains how Pilkington’s culture of innovation is helping the group to identify and tackle these challenges head-on.
Q. What does your role at Pilkington involve, and how does it relate to innovation within the business?
In my role as European R&D director I have responsibility for the R&D workforce in Europe, ensuring we have the people, skills and facilities to support our businesses, primarily architectural and automotive in Europe. In my position as global R&D portfolio manager for laminated and functional products, I manage R&D projects in that particular technology area globally, supporting all SBUs.
We have other technology portfolios covering different technology areas including coatings, glass shaping and a float/flat glass portfolio led by portfolio managers experienced in those fields. Alongside these we also have the Incubator, which looks at early-stage innovations and new business opportunities and new external collaborations. After early R&D work has been done here, the business may decide to take a project forward by moving it from the incubator into one of the other technology portfolios.
Q. How are you developing a culture of innovation across the company?
There is recognition from the very top of the business – indeed from our President and CEO Shigeki Mori – that it is essential for NSG Group to innovate in order to deliver on our value-added strategy. That means that we are not just a commodity product manufacturer; instead we are always looking to add value to the products and services we offer customers. That requires innovation in terms of our business thinking, as well as innovation in terms of new technology. There’s been recognition in recent years that we need to innovate more broadly and beyond our normal business operations, which includes working with more external partners and opening ourselves up to new ideas.
Q. What are the main benefits of working with other businesses and partners to drive innovation?
It’s not just about sharing ideas with other people, it’s about acknowledging that we can’t do everything or be experts in every area, but we can find collaborations that are mutually beneficial. So a partnership may give us access to technologies that we’re not experts in, or access to facilities that we don’t have in-house. In return we can bring our own technologies and expertise, as well as our commercial knowledge and understanding of the market. It also opens us up to different ways of working, which is a good way to challenge us to think how we can do things differently.
Q. What are some of the big trends in society that are driving Pilkington to find new innovative solutions?
There are so many trends that we are tracking to understand how they are going to impact our business and our customers. That includes everything from climate change and energy efficiency, to the role of digital technology in our increasingly connected world. We want to understand how we can develop our products and services in-line with those trends, rather than waiting until something forces us to do something differently. We’re always trying to look ahead to see where we can contribute positively.
Q. How do innovative ideas emerge within the business?
It’s important to note that innovation doesn’t come from just one source – it comes from a very broad range of sources. That could be in the lab by testing and trialling new ideas, or it could be from talking to our customers to understand how we can add value for them.
Innovation can come from any individual in the business. Anybody in any role can think about how to do something differently or better, which could lead to an innovation in our products or processes. It’s important that we remember that innovation is not just about new products – it’s also about those processes that make us more efficient and effective, such in our supply chain or procurement processes.
The message that innovation is relevant to absolutely everybody, and that it’s everybody’s role in the group, is one that our senior team are very keen to share.