How Arkema is keeping one step ahead
Arkema is working with a mix of technology and industry partners to design the materials of tomorrow. Christian Collette, Vice President, Research & Development, spells out our strategy, which is based on openness, agility and anticipating the future.
6 questions to Christian Collette, Arkema Research & Development Vice President
What prompted Arkema to opt for a strategy of Open Innovation?
Christian Collette > Our Open Innovation strategy makes our R&D efficient by syncing it with precisely identified, real-world issues or challenges.
Working with partners worldwide helps us fine-tune our market and tech intelligence, get a jump on major societal, industrial and technological changes, better target our research and, ultimately, progress more quickly on promising projects.
Can you give us an example?
Christian Collette > We're developing thermoplastic composites that lighten vehicle bodies and also provide recyclability. For this project we've teamed up with European carmakers and equipment suppliers, a South Korean laboratory internationally renowned for thermoplastic composites, and a French institute of applied technology specializing in infusion processes for composite parts. We enhance our own innovation processes with the knowledge and technologies we need wherever they can be found.
How do you choose your R&D partners?
Christian Collette > We work with top-flight academic institutions. They can offer rare expertise, collaborative research, and project assessments by scientific committees. For a still-emerging technology, we sometimes partner with high-potential start-ups. On the industry side, we give priority to companies that are market leaders. Our joint development agreements in such cases stipulate exclusive commercial use of the resulting material. Given the capital expenditure required, our partners must be able to distribute the new product on a large scale.
You have organized your R&D into six innovation platforms. Why is that?
Christian Collette > Our six platforms cover lightweight materials and design, electronics solutions, new energies, home efficiency and insulation, bio-based products, and water management. All six address major social challenges and offer strong potential growth. More importantly, we're entirely credible in these niches: we have recognized expertise in the materials used in many of these applications. Lastly, each platform pools the energy and drive of international teams into targeted research to achieve genuine technological advances.
What are the key factors to successfully carry out your R&D projects?
Christian Collette > Pace and momentum are crucial. You need a tight-knit team of researchers with clearly defined roles and objectives. Every six months, we reassess a project’s status before moving on. Success also requires knowing when to call time on projects that are going nowhere. We shut down about a quarter of them every year - always a tough call - and redeploy the resources elsewhere.
You've also created an incubator. What does it do?
Christian Collette > Our incubator is a cross-functional, independent program that serves both the platforms and the R&D goals of our business lines. Its role is to nurture high-potential innovations based on technologically disruptive materials.