DuPont launches global automotive-innovation centers

  • 22-Oct-2012 04:19 EDT

DuPont's newest innovation center in Troy, MI, connects the Detroit area customer base with DuPont's worldwide experts. During the center's opening event, Michigan-based customers (shown) communicated with a team in Switzerland. The topic was lightweight air-induction systems for vehicles.

“If there’s a problem that needs to be solved, we have to reach out to anybody with the relevant skills and capabilities to do that [problem-solving],” said Thomas Connelly, DuPont’s Executive Vice President and Chief Innovation Officer, during an interview with SAE Magazines at the Oct. 18 opening of the company’s new innovation center focused on automotive technologies.

Located inside DuPont's Automotive Development Center in Troy, MI, the facility is the first of its kind for the company in the U.S. It provides video conferencing and other communication conduits for government, academia, business partners, and the 9500 DuPont engineers and scientists located at facilities around the globe.

The Troy center is the fourth such automotive-centric facility to be launched worldwide by DuPont. The others are in Seoul, Pune, and Nagoya. Next month, DuPont plans to open an innovation center in Moscow. Similar facilities in Istanbul and Geneva are scheduled to follow in 2013.

“We need an in-depth understanding of the needs and wants of the value chain,” Connelly said, adding that “the cycle of innovation keeps speeding up, so we’re trying to deliver solutions at an accelerated pace.”

That pace picked up considerably in 2012, with more than 135 "events"—vehicle launches that will have more than 50,000 units per year of sustained volume, according to Michael Robinet, Managing Director of IHS Automotive Consulting.

Product launches are “a major initiative, and that puts a tremendous strain on the OEMs and the supply base,” said Robinet. The constant cadence of new vehicle assembly launches—a scenario likely to continue for another couple of years—needs team-orientated task handlers.

The collaborative approach can also provide a big assist during a vehicle’s development, given the increasing emphasis on reducing vehicle weight and lowering tailpipe emissions.

Companies must "find new ways to solve problems very, very quickly. You’re going to need the participation of the supply base. And for OEMs, their goal going forward is to try and find the right partners that will get them there,” Robinet said. “You need to be very flexible in how you partner with suppliers and with other OEMs to master these challenges.”

Gary Rogers, President and CEO of FEV Inc., also attended the Troy facility's opening. He stressed that implementing new technologies can be challenging. He recalled that 15-20 years ago, companies licensing FEV technology often wanted to implement the innovation without FEV’s involvement.

“They wanted to try and do the application of the technology on their own," Rogers told AEI. "And many, many times—without having that experience and background in the technology—they failed.”

FEV still licenses its technologies, but in recent years the engineering-services company’s role has expanded. “It’s really the additional involvement of us in the application of the technology,” Rogers said. FEV’s current technology development programs include working with suppliers and/or automakers to bring innovations to market.

The need for innovation is non-stop, especially in light of the aggressive new 54.5-mpg U.S. CAFE regulations set for 2025. That directive is pushing the industry to develop technologies and materials for creating energy-efficient vehicles.

As DuPont’s Connelly points out, “No single company or organization has all the pieces to the innovation puzzle.”

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