Research partnerships: collective intelligence
The more you bring together talents from different sources and backgrounds for an innovation project, the more chance you have of achieving interesting results. This is the principle of research and development projects. Michelin has been involved in these projects for decades and currently has 300 under way.
Research and Development (R&D) partnerships involve calling on expertise from outside the Company for developing innovative products and services. Their collaborative approach takes the opposite stance to the industrial secrecy of the 1970s and 1980s. Since the 1990s, there have been an increasing number of research partnerships in every field. There are two main forms:
- "Inbound" innovation aims to attract techniques and knowledge from other companies, start-ups or public entities on precise, common research topics
- "Outbound" innovation involves externalising the technological lessons learned by the company to expose them to as many people as possible. The aim is to come up with new applications.
Whatever form they take, these partnerships help to enhance the innovation process. Nowadays, Michelin knows how to make the most of these two kinds of open innovation. Our research programmes, on subjects including raw materials, processes and connected mobility, are supported by many partnerships, the aim being to offer products and services that are increasingly effective and adapted to each person’s needs.
BIOBUTTERFLY, TOMORROW'S GREEN BUTADIENE
A product of the petrochemical industry, butadiene is a compound primarily used to manufacture synthetic rubber and manufacturers around the world consume more than 10 million tonnes of it each year. In partnership with IFP Energies Nouvelles, établissement public de recherche dans l’énergie, et Axens, a leading player in the petrochemical industry, Michelin is developing an innovative technology for producing butadiene from biofuels. In this way, it will reduce the environmental impact of producing butadiene and secure supplies by freeing itself from its reliance on petroleum products.
3 questions to Maude Portigliatti, Scientific Director and Coordinator of Research and Development Partnerships for the Michelin Group.
What does Michelin seek to achieve from a research partnership?
Original skills that complement our own and enrich our innovation! Partnerships are the perfect way to identify emerging technologies or mobilise a critical mass of appropriate resources, for a time and for a given topic, thus speeding up our research process.
As well as traditional collaborations with academic laboratories, customers and suppliers, we have recently expanded the scope of our partners to include recognised consulting experts, SMEs and start-ups for quick technological prototyping, as well as consortia that group together manufacturers and universities.
What are the keys to a successful research partnership?
Above all, you need to be convinced that there is more to gain from a collaboration than there is to lose. Open-mindedness and curiosity are therefore two essential qualities for incorporating ideas from outside. Furthermore, it is vital to have a crystal clear intellectual property policy from the outset and to construct a win-win approach with the partner.
How do research partnerships represent a strategic challenge for the Michelin Group?
We only have the tiniest part of the world’s available resources within the company itself! And many areas of strategic development, like the smart tyre for example, do not rely on our historical expertise. Tapping into external resources allows us to take a new approach by giving us access to a network of excellence and unique tools and methods.
We have multiplied the number of R&D partnerships we have by 5 in just a few years. They are now essential tools for increasing the power and speed of innovation and contribute significantly to the Group’s profitable growth.