Tower Bridge, London

Voor het novembernummer 2010 van Update, de Client Newsletter van ArcelorMItatl FCE schreven wij onder meer dit artikel over de research centres. et artikel werd in het Engels geschreven op basis van een uitgebreid interview.

Tailoring innovative solutions
to the needs of tomorrow’s world

Not so long ago, when the economy was booming, European companies unanimously recognised the importance of investing in innovative and differentiating products. But in the aftermath of the credit crunch, these same companies are suddenly less prepared to stick out their necks on long-term investments... Unless, of course, they can team up with a strong partner who is able to help them regain their original R&D impetus. Such a partner could easily be the ArcelorMittal Global Research & Development Gent and Liège. Together with our clients we are ready to tailor innovative solutions to the needs of tomorrow’s world.

The ArcelorMittal Global R&D centre for industrial clients using flat carbon steel (see separate text box) is spread over two sites, Gent and Liège (Belgium). ‘Together we constitute one of ArcelorMittal’s market oriented research centres,’ Research Centre Managers Sven Vandeputte and Michel Beguin confirm.

The men and means

Despite the economic downturn ArcelorMittal has consistently been investing in state of the art equipment. ‘As a result, we are now in an excellent position to provide our customers with cutting-edge technology for material characterisation and process development,’ Michel Beguin says. ‘We can simulate virtually any real world production situation in order to prevent technical problems from occurring in our clients’ production facilities. By doing this we substantially reduce our clients’ development and production costs, reduce time-to-market, and effectively increase process performance.’

‘Our labs are staffed with engineers and scientists of twenty different nationalities,’ Sven Vandeputte adds. ‘They work in close contact with universities all over the world and share the same passion for science and market-driven research. Each staff member brings complementary skills and experiences to the table, transforming the team into something far more than the sum of its parts. This has earned us the trust of many leading industrial companies.’
The fact of having all these nationalities on the team also creates communicative advantages. ‘It has certainly helped us to establish a stimulating atmosphere,’ Sven Vandeputte smiles. ‘In addition, it simplifies the interaction with clients anywhere in the world. There is always someone from our staff who has the necessary qualifications and can speak the language of the client.’

Michel Beguin and Sven Vandeputte applaud the commercial teams’ initiative to regularly invite clients to the ArcelorMittal R&D centre. ‘These visits constitute excellent occasions for clients to witness firsthand what we can do for them: facilitate their market-driven innovation processes.’

Innovation as a two-stage rocket

‘Our objective is always to help clients find innovative answers to their ever-evolving business needs,’ Michel Beguin explains. ‘We clearly distinguish between incremental and disruptive innovations ‘Incremental developments are small adjustments and improvements to existing technologies and products. They are always well documented in our technical data sheets, magazines and web pages.’

‘Disruptive developments challenge conventional business thinking. Over the years our R&D centre has developed quite a few of these “game changers” which have enabled clients to capture completely new markets and leave many competitors in their wake.’
Truly disruptive developments always require considerable efforts on the communication front. According to Michel Beguin R&D and commercial teams must work closely together to get a new technology adopted. ‘Disruptive developments are like two-stage rockets. First we need to fully develop the technology, preferably with the active involvement of the client, turning the process into a genuine “open innovation” project. Then we must help our client to conquer the market itself. End customers must be informed about the benefits of the new product or technology. Their rational and irrational resistance must be overcome until they finally make a trial purchase.’

Co-engineering

‘The best way to successfully launch a new product or technology, be it of incremental of disruptive nature, is through co-engineering,’ Sven Vandeputte feels. ‘Clients who are really inspired by one of our innovative ideas or concepts are more inclined to actively participate in the further development of the product and technology. They know that is the best way to obtain the optimum result. All our new developments – even the most disruptive ones – have at least partially been based on the insights of one or more clients.’

‘I know I am going against the tide here saying that the future of European companies doesn’t lie in commodity products but in unique products with high added value. However necessary and unavoidable cost-cutting may be, developing new differentiating products has proven to be a very effective way of ensuring long term profitability. Therefore, differentiation is key and ArcelorMittal Global R&D can make it much more feasible,’ Sven Vandeputte concludes.