Method to Get Fluoride Powder into Toothpaste Tubes

Published Dec-04-09

A more efficient method for Colgate-Palmolive to get fluoride powder into toothpaste tubes without it dispersing into the atmosphere.

Edward Melcarek, Canada

The Story:

Method to Get Fluoride Powder into Toothpaste Tubes Colgate-Palmolive turned to open innovation to help it solve a challenge that had bewildered and bemused its R&D department.

After many failed attempts the R&D types at Colgate-Palmolive could only look up from their lab benches with blank faces. Their bosses had asked them to devise a more efficient way of getting its toothpaste into the tube without dispersing it to the outside air, but they failed to deliver. It seemed on the face of it a simple enough task – not so however. They were mystified. So the company decided to post the specs of the challenge on an open innovation website to see if it could be solved by anyone else.

Instant Solution

The challenge caught the eye of Edward Melcarek on one of his regular surfing trips to the InnoCentive website, and within minutes the electrical engineer had come up with the solution. In fact he knew the answer by the time he had finished reading the challenge specs. He fired off an email suggesting putting a positive charge on the fluoride while grounding the tube. In this way the positively charged particles would be attracted to the tube without being scattered to the four winds.

Advantages of Open Innovation

Melcarek’s method was an efficient application of basic physics that the scientists at Colgate-Palmolive had not considered. It was a physics solution to a chemistry problem and a clear-cut demonstration of the advantages of using open innovation to solve corporate conundrums. Colgate-Palmolive was given access to a network of solvers with a diversity of intellectual expertise and the prize money handed over cost them a lot less than paying their own staff to find a solution. For his few hours work Melcarek picked up a cool $25,000. Now that’s something to smile about. In interviews given at the time of his cash award in 2006 Melcarek said, “It’s a beautiful way of doing business.”

A Winning Formula

Melcarek spends several hours every week looking for open innovation challenges to solve. He makes sure his immediate environment is conducive to the creative thinking process. He dons a floppy fishing hat and sits in a room in his “crash pad” which is full of gadgets, gizmos, transducers and a couple of computers. There he looks for challenges posted by corporate America and gets to work. If he doesn't know what to do after 30 minutes of brainstorming he gives up.

The engineer has solved several chemistry problems, without having any formal training in the discipline. He does not see that as any kind of hindrance, because he contends that a lot of the chemistry challenges can be solved with electromechanical processes. And that is something that he’s familiar with from his time studying particle physics at university. He appears to have hit on a winning formula by using his specialized knowledge in physics and engineering to solve problems in other fields.

Open Innovation and Fat Paychecks

For Melcarek open innovation has turned into something of a lifeline. His career has seen him design everything from conventional heating vents for buildings to spray-paint robots. But he says he was never truly happy with the 9-5 routine, and had difficulty landing full-time R&D jobs. Now he continues to deploy his range of diverse skills and talents to turn open innovation challenges into fat paychecks. He’s just one of thousands of solvers who are providing world-class solutions for companies all over the planet.

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