Research and Development is a highly complicated and articulated concept, subject to different interpretations, depending on the sector and the type of company. To better understand the dynamics and importance within Silea, we had an interesting talk with Fabrizio Cannone, who, together with other colleagues, deals with R&D in our company.
What is meant by R&D?
“Research and development is often identified in that department responsible for the design of new products and patents. Actually, it can affect all company departments, wherever there are problems to be solved or processes to be improved, R&D can give, and must give, its own contribution.”
Compared to technologically more dynamic sectors (ex. IT, medical, automotive, etc.), how does R&D fit into an apparently more static context such as Oil & Gas and liquid transfer in general?
“In a sector like the one where Silea Liquid Transfer operates, and more specifically in the supply of loading arms, the R&D department’s focus is certainly aimed at customer needs and market trends. We are witnessing a major shift in the Oil & Gas sector, the search for increasingly less polluting fuels, for instance, forces us to evolve and also to look to new markets, for example that of cryogenic products such as LNG. In this case we have studied new articles, to enter this emerging market, and we are working to be able to propose ourselves with greater strength also in the chemical field.”
Our mind often associates words like development and improvement with something that is not working as it should and needs to be changed. Those involved in R&D, instead, also aim to improve products that already work well; in Silea we have also seen this recently with the restyling of the semi-automatic coupler. Why? What is the benefit of modifying a product that the customer is already satisfied with?
“R&D is not only the study of new products, but also continuous improvement. As you said, a few months ago we have put on the market a new semi-automatic coupler with higher technical specifications than the previous one, but at the same time less complicated, both in the assembly phase, for our production department, and in the maintenance phase, to the benefit of the customer. This is a prime example of how R&D can play a role in even a seemingly static sector, giving answers and solutions that facilitate the production flow also with a view to lean production.”
What are the R&D steps within Silea?
“R&D has ears and eyes on every department, starting with the sales department, through which we know the new needs, the new trends and, above all, where customer feedback comes from; continuing with the production department, to which we must give solutions and proposals to facilitate its work, finally with the technical department, which supports us with the engineering and production phases of the new articles. It is therefore important to collect the information and filter it. Then a list of projects is drawn up, giving them a level of priority. In the next phase, the existing products and processes are analyzed and, for each project, criticalities and strengths are pointed out, defining the result to be achieved. Then we move on to the construction of the prototype, to verify the goodness of the project and carry out the first tests. Based on the results, we apply the changes, if necessary, and finally we move on to the engineering and product validation phases, if it is a new article, or to the purchase of new equipment and the implementation of work phases, if it is a new production process.”
Do you believe that R&D should only react to market needs or can it also play a proactive role, putting itself in a position to offer to the customer both innovative and unexpected solutions?
“Being active on the market with new products is certainly an indication of a healthy and dynamic company, which looks ahead and believes in its work. Technology evolves exponentially and often our customers do not have the time and means to stay up to date. In my opinion, it is our job, as suppliers, to propose new solutions to them.”
Innovating is certainly an incentive for personal and professional growth, but it also creates cohesion and harmony with colleagues from other departments who take part in a project. What value does a team have in the development of a new product?
“This aspect is essential for the success of a project. As previously mentioned, the R&D process involves many professional figures, both inside and outside the company. Collaborating and solving problems together creates harmony and participation in a successful project and generates self-esteem, satisfaction, excitement and incentives that each of us should find in our work.”
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