According to Dr. Jay Senkevich, Expert Chemist and Materials Science Consultant and Scientific Advisor, companies can increases odds of succeeding in developing differentiated products that drive profitable sales growth by developing novel applications of conformal coatings and materials.
Conformal coats have been associated with printed circuit boards for many years providing dielectric isolation with respect to dielectric breakdown (high voltage) and environmental stress (water, salt etc..).
Parylene, a high performance chemical vapor deposited conformal coat, has been part of the same paradigm. The market for conformal coats is not small with a annual value of $10.6 billion in 2016 and is projected to grow to $14.2 billion in 2021, according to BCC Research.
Although their value is high, the market for conformal coatings is very mature and there has been limited innovation with their base chemistries. New products have sought-after materials with improved application specific properties. For example, parylene is used to coat power electronics boards in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner; however, these boards have higher operational temperatures than boards in older generation Boeing planes, which has driven the development of new variants of parylene.
Parylene's properties, in particular: improved UV resistance, higher thermal stability, with hydrophilic surfaces, with functional groups at its surface (for adhesion or the immobilization of bio-molecules), autoclaveable, and re-workable are important to engineers designing the latest generation of devices whether for aerospace, LED display, life science (bioMEMS and devices), or electronics. Thus, it is evident how companies can develop novel, differentiated products by investing in research and development of novel conformal coating technologies based on parylene.
Keys for breakthroughs using conformal coatings and materials
- Develop relationships with scientists and engineers that are experts in materials science inside and outside the business,
- Have a clear vision of the role conformal coatings play in differentiating your product,
- Take calculated risks in the development of novel conformal coating applications,
- Invest in people who can help you develop a business based on your new technology-based product, and
- Ensure free flow of information and communication among material scientists, engineers and product owners.
Build relationships with material scientists inside and outside the business
Most corporate employees are consumed by a company's culture, which is shaped by the many relationships and activities that take place in the business, such as safety training to HR team building exercises to meetings on numerous and a variety of subjects.
To be successful and to solve manufacturing difficulties related to novel coating applications, companies must expand their expertise by procuring access to networks of world-class scientists and engineers that complement their internal corporate networks. These external networks can also be useful to help companies assess new investment and technology development opportunities.
Have a clear vision of how conformal coatings help create a differentiated product
The world of materials and chemistry is becoming more competitive and commoditized. Many companies do not see the need for change. However, disruptions loom in every direction, like novel additive manufacturing technologies, new materials, new user habits, to name a few.
Thus, it is important to consider how a company can offer differentiated products based on solid coating technologies. What makes a technology solid? One that is based on knowledge derived from rigorous scientific analysis and experimentation by experts in their field.
Making products that have unique functionality based on a novel coatings is a clear path to differentiation and higher margins. The iPhone is a good example. The iPhone is functional in many environments due primarily for its innovative conformal coatings. Without these, the phone's electronics probably would not survive typical daily use.
Take calculated risks in novel conformal coating applications
A mistake many companies make is to live with a false sense of success 'times are good now, thus why spend money in new technologies and reduce our margins?' This false sense of security is exactly what kills a company's future prospects.
Moreover, many companies when faced with potential disruption, enter into acquisition sprees to try to build up their innovative technology portfolio. The problem with this approach is that buying technology usually means buying OLD technology. Obviously, that which you can see and touch has already been invented.
We know that a driving force behind successful businesses like Intel, Apple, and Tesla, is finding the right balance between investments in research and development, sales volume and profit margins.
Ideally, companies should strive to have both high volume and very high margins; however, as experience suggests, profit margins of chemistry-based products have eroded as most technologies are mature and commoditized. This is why it is important to place smart bets or take calculated risks in developing new chemistries for coating applications. It does not take much money: Most experts agree that innovation breakthroughs are likely when companies invest 5 to 10% of revenues in research and development in focused areas, such as new coating technologies.
Invest in people, inside and outside the business, who can help you develop businesses based on products containing new chemistries
As companies plow money into research and development, they must also focus on fostering a culture that appreciates knowledge sharing networks and relationships.
In this global economy, companies need to encourage employees to work every day on establishing and retaining relationships that will benefit the company and that will strengthen their position in a given community of knowledge or practice. Borrowing an example from the popular TV show Survivor: If you do not nurture the internal relationships you might very well be 'voted off the island'; at the same time, if you do not nurture external relationships you might miss an opportunity to address broader communal issues.
Thus, as companies join communities of innovators and thought leaders, they gain access to new ways of thinking that reinforce a culture innovation and disruption.
Ensure free flow of information and communication among material scientists, engineers and product owners
Engineers and scientists are notoriously bad at communicating. What is effective communication? Responding to e-mails promptly. Returning calls. Writing e-mails or texts that are person-focused and sensitive. Knowing when to talk in-person or via email is crucial.
In Jay's experience, most business executives communicate effectively, which is a big reason why they hold the positions they do. However, materials scientists and engineers need to get out of the lab once in a while to engage with people who need to integrate their technologies into products as well as with those who need to communicate the benefits of products to the market.
These small changes in behavior have big payoffs, as the well known case of 3M's Post-It notes suggests. According to wikipedia,
Dr. Spencer Silver, wanted to develop a super-strong adhesive. Instead he accidentally created a "low-tack", reusable, pressure-sensitive adhesive. For five years, Silver promoted his "solution without a problem" within 3M both informally and through seminars but failed to gain acceptance. In 1974 a colleague who had attended one of his seminars, Art Fry, came up with the idea of using the adhesive to anchor his bookmark in his hymnbook. Fry then utilized 3M's officially sanctioned "permitted bootlegging" policy to develop the idea.
By following these simple keys, companies will develop a solid foundation for creating differentiated chemistry-based products that command premiums and yield high profit margins for the business.
Jay Senkevich is an Expert Chemist and Materials Science Consultant and Scientific Advisor. He can be reached via Ping&Meet.