From idea to product spans a decade
Developing new products is a bit like looking into the future. The innovations that the Front End Teams (Unilin Flooring and Unilin Panels) come up with today take a decade to hit the shop shelves. It’s a process of trial and error.
“Eight years ago we planted the first seed that eventually blossomed into a high-tech printing technology. The laminate tiles of the Muse collection and our Master Oak are our showpieces now and they are the product of this technology”, says Benjamin Clement, innovation manager of Unilin Flooring’s Front End Team. “And what we think up today will be marketed in five or six years.”
Never stop trying, always learning
In other words, Benjamin and his team predict the future. At least, they try to, because it is no easy feat. “Nine out of ten projects fail”, he admits. “Failure is part of the course but that makes it all the more rewarding when a project does succeed. That one spark is what drives us.”
The different phases of innovationBut how do they do it exactly, look that far ahead? Benjamin distinguishes several phases in this process:
1. Exploration phase
“First we explore our ideas and verify how they match customer needs. Extensive market research gives us good insights into what customers want. We also take into account market trends, we scout production technologies and conduct a sustainability analysis. With every new concept the pieces of the puzzle must fit seamlessly.”
2. Proof of concept
“In our laboratories we test the reliability of the technology, and we examine whether the concept can be scaled up.”
3. Acceleration phase
“When the prototype is fully on point we look into how the product can evolve into a production-grade product by manufacturing small batches.”
A crucial factor in the entire development process is the collaboration between the various Unilin divisions. “I have frequent contact with colleagues. They know what we are doing, we know each other’s projects and we confer on a regular basis”, says Benjamin.
And Unilin’s in-house patent team also makes a valuable contribution. “Thanks to them we know what is available in the world. But to us they are so much more than merely a source of knowledge: they also help us protect our ideas through patents and, in a later stage, they help us license them.”