Development of a Valve for Packaging Material

Published Jan-21-10

Sealed Air Corp has a number of technical challenges solved via open innovation. This included the creation of a special valve for a package - a task that had stumped internal researchers.

Sealed Air Corporation, United States

The Story:

Development of a Valve for Packaging Material Sealed Air Corp is a global manufacturer of packaging materials and systems including Bubble Wrap, and it has fully embraced open innovation to boost the bottom line.

Although no strangers to working with external partners to solve business challenges, the company came to the conclusion that increased competition meant they were no longer the technology leader they once were, particularly on the food packaging side of their business.

Innovation was needed fast, but Sealed Air didn’t possess the internal resources to fulfill their requirements, and so they sought a development partner, and found it in the knowledge broker NineSigma.

The Appeal of Open Innovation

What appealed to the bosses at Sealed Air was that open innovation via NineSigma would provide them with a more sophisticated way of doing what they had done before, and it would have a broader reach. The packaging company wanted to take advantage of a global network of experts to help it solve some the trickiest technical challenges it faced.

Initially they identified ten challenges based on their importance to the business and their ability to provide considerable new opportunities. Of these they expected to receive two promising solutions which was felt would be a good return on investment. They got six!

A few of these challenges had been worked on industriously by some of their own researchers until they reached a point where they could do no more. They were “brick wall” problems and some were even considered impossible to solve. One particular ‘impossible’ problem received 36 potential solutions.

Open innovation had surpassed their wildest dreams. Within a year of issuing the challenges to the global community six solutions were earmarked for further research and development.

A Solution for a Packaging Problem

One problem that was neatly solved via open innovation concerned a particular type of packaging. Sealed Air’s marketing people had identified a need for a special valve for it, and internal researchers worked on developing a solution. But their efforts were fruitless given the number of timing and cost issues. In an interview with ‘Industry Week’ magazine Sealed Air research scientist Blaine Childress explained the problem: “… they just really weren't able to quite get there in the time frame that was needed. People were becoming more and more loaded with other problems with short timelines. “

As it was such an important project the decision was made to open the problem to global community. Sealed Air received about a dozen responses from all over the world which were examined thoroughly. Within nine months they had a solution they could work with. This was a much shorter time-frame than could’ve been achieved if the company had just pursued a solution internally.

Additional Open Innovation Benefit

According to Childress there is an additional benefit to open innovation beyond the actual solution being sought, and it’s particularly felt by the company’s R&D personnel. These were people who were initially apprehensive about open innovation, possibly seeing it as a threat to their existence: “Some of our researchers get quite excited when they see a new way to solve a problem, because then they immediately say, "how else can we apply that?""

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