BY RUSTY HAGGARD

DURING A CHANCE ENCOUNTER BETWEEN SEATMATES ON A COMMERCIAL FLIGHT INTO HOUSTON, A SURGEON AT METHODIST HOSPITAL’S DEBAKEY HEART AND VASCULAR CENTER AND A DRILLING ENGINEER AT EXXONMOBIL DISCOVERED THAT THE CARDIOVASCULAR AND OIL AND GAS WORLDS DO INDEED HAVE MUCH IN COMMON.

Strip away specialized terminologies from the two fields, and both agreed they were dealing with basically two things: pumps and pipes. That realization led to the development of a conference by the same name — an incubator for exploring and solving cross-industry challenges.

But for Nalco Champion, wide-eyed, open-minded collaboration isn’t a once-ayear thing. It’s built into the structure of the organization, and it’s integral to the company’s RD&E successes.

Just as the days of easy oil are gone, so are the days of easy solutions. Problems that can be solved with conventional thinking have been solved. Today’s challenges are more complex, more costly and more critical. Their answers may not be found within the company, or even within the industry. So Nalco Champion experts are looking to the outside. Can clean water technologies, food and beverage (F&B), or even the medical or space industries hold answers?


“SOME OF THE GREATEST IDEAS ARE FOUND AT THE INTERSECTION OF DIVERSE INDUSTRIES.”
DAVID HORSUP
VICE PRESIDENT, RD&E


TECHNOLOGY PARTNERSHIPS AND DEVELOPMENT

“We’ve realized that we don’t always have the best solution within our four walls. Some company, university or entrepreneur has already found it. So we don’t necessarily have to solve internally,” says Vic Keasler, senior RD&E group leader and Global Biotechnology anchor. Instead, the company is looking outside, often into other industries.

What is out there that the company can leverage? As it turns out, plenty. The search is on, and Nalco Champion researchers are going after external answers — particularly external technologies — from many different angles: through cross-industry collaborations, open innovation forums and venture capital investments, and even through the structure of the organization itself.

Technology Partnerships and Development (TP&D) is the in-house group specifically dedicated to finding new external technologies. Ecolab’s innovation portfolio currently contains 10 percent technologies from external sources; the plan is to grow this to 25 percent, a substantial challenge. Ecolab, since acquiring Nalco and Champion Technologies, is a $14 billion company. Customers expect more than they did prior to the merger. Those expectations created a new resolve within TP&D: think differently and act differently.

Jeff Montanye, vice president, RD&E, Energy Services at Nalco Champion, knows that growth in external technologies will come from leveraging the suddenly bigger landscape. “We know we have to grow,” Montanye says. “Everyone expects it. That’s where our ‘Think Differently, Act Differently’ rallying cry rings true. We have to change the way we think. We have to ask what are the chemistries, technologies and solutions being used in vascular surgery, for example. How does that relate to what we’re doing in the oilfield? How do we take what’s being used in food and beverage and use it in energy and vice versa? We’re looking in areas we haven’t looked in before,” he says.

A small team of technology specialists, led by Montanye and David Horsup, also a vice president, RD&E Energy Services, comprise the energy portion of the TP&D group. They depend on divisions all across Ecolab to first analyze technology needs. Once those are known, the TP&D experts go after specific technologies that may fill the gaps identified.

For the initial analysis, division leaders use their own specialists, including market experts, to define the technology gaps. The TP&D specialists then search through abundant resources, including ideas being developed by open innovation groups, individuals and entrepreneurs. They also investigate myriad technologies from innovators who fall into categories such as adjacencies, white spaces and step outs. The precise descriptions from the divisions provide strict criteria, and the TP&D team members adhere to the idea that possibilities abound, yet gaps will require specific solutions.

“Even though we may look at 1,000 companies in a given year, 95 percent of them may not fall into the gaps we’re looking at,” says Ravi Mukkamala. Mukkamala, an RD&E director of TP&D, works on the Downstream, WellChem and TIORCO sides of the business while his fellow RD&E Director, Chris Morrison, works on the Oilfield Chemicals side. Other TP&D experts are scanning technologies for food and beverage, and still others for breakthroughs in water technologies. “It might take several years for us to organically develop technologies,” Mukkamala says. He points to the company’s external reach made possible by open innovation sources and Ecolab’s limited partnership in Emerald Technology Ventures. These two initiatives provide a rich stream of potential technical solutions.

Open innovation sources connect clients like Nalco Champion with companies, researchers and individuals worldwide. They can link TP&D investigators, for example, to external problem solvers and enable sharing of knowledge to accelerate innovation. Emerald Technology Ventures is a globally recognized investor in the areas of energy, water and materials. Founded in 2000, Emerald has been a venture capital pioneer in these industrial sectors and has invested in 50 companies to date, managing one of the largest clean technology venture portfolios across Europe and North America with outstanding returns. The corporate initiative by Ecolab with these two resources dramatically extends the technology search and facilitates the TP&D researchers’ ability to vet candidate technologies against the precise criteria established by the many divisions within the company.

Shaking off any questions about pressure inside TP&D in its search for answers and in its efforts to grow the portfolio to that robust 25 percent in external technologies, Morrison says, “There is an understanding that the nature of research and development is such that often projects will not bear fruit. We’re not working in a zero-risk environment. Ecolab’s funding of research is a classic example of how to diversify the risks. By working on many projects, by having both internal and external technology components, and by being spread across so many different activities, by the end of the five-year period they’ve given us, our successes will outweigh the ones that do not work out.”

DNA SUMMIT

When Ecolab and Nalco and Champion Technologies joined forces, the outside view held was that collaboration would begin with Ecolab’s strength in food and beverage and Nalco’s expertise in water rather than the energy sector. The energy side factored in quickly, however, in one of the first cross-company product launches: an F&B chemistry applied to an oil and gas need. Suddenly the focus widened and microbiology became a natural intersection to explore. The DNA Summit now brings the entire company together in a globalsharing platform.

What began at Nalco as a collaborative meeting to break down silos between energy services and the water group has expanded rapidly since its initial gathering in 2012. Analysis concluded the 2012 scope was too narrow. The next year all divisions, corporate groups, international scientists and marketers involved in innovation were invited, increasing attendance to 55. For 2014, global locations in Brazil, Australia, India and Europe phoned in to collaborate, again upping the group’s numbers.

The DNA Summit has powerful leverage potential. That leverage might come from F&B, clean water technologies or energy services. “We’re looking at some of the latest microbiological techniques in the industry to see how to leverage them into Ecolab’s businesses, whether that’s oil and gas or all the different facets of Ecolab,” says David Horsup.

Vic Keasler agrees. “The DNA Summit gives us a good representation of the global company. We are sharing in a global way the innovations being developed within the company and leveraging what’s going on in other divisions,” he says. Over 100 representatives are expected to be involved in the 2015 edition of the DNA Summit, which will take place in April in Naperville, Illinois.

Solvers Symposium

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THE SOLVERS SYMPOSIUM

The commitment to collaboration is not only about internal exchanges. With energy the fastest growing division, the need to find solutions for oil and gas problems is a prime consideration. That makes another conference, the Solvers Symposium, a showcase for innovation and problemsolving that taps into individual knowledge sharing. Here the focus reverts to oil and gas, and posters are used to display problems and challenges that are openended and unresolved. Nearly 300 scientists and researchers gather from across all of Nalco Champion, with representation from Ecolab, to lend knowledge and experience to the myriad challenges detailed in the posters. The 2014 edition, held in Houston in September, was the second in the series

Chris Morrison from TP&D helped to organize the effort. He emphasizes that the two-day Solvers Symposium is not about success stories. In fact, he and other symposium creators turned the concept on its head in designing the event. “No one wants to talk about the 99 dead-ends they went down. At the Solvers Symposium, we don’t allow successes to be brought forth for display. We want the unresolved problems, the unmet customer needs,” he says

The solve ratio is astounding. The initial symposium had 50 challenges that were shared via posters for the scientists to view, analyze, ask questions and then try to resolve. The successful solve rate was about one-third, which is extremely high according to symposium creators. This year 75 submissions were received.

This year’s Solvers Symposium featured keynote speakers: Dr. Allen Lumsden from Methodist Hospital, one of the founders of the Pumps and Pipes Conference; Rod Pyle, author of “Innovation the NASA Way”; and Dr. Jeff Davis, director of Space Flight Sciences and chief medical officer for NASA JSC.

“We’re on a much bigger stage now,”| Horsup says, emphasizing doing things the way they were done in the past will not work for the new $14 billion version of Ecolab and Nalco Champion.

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PUMPS AND PIPES

Collaboration to solve problems is not limited to within Nalco Champion or Ecolab. Try cross-industry pollination. As a sponsor of the Pumps and Pipes oil and gas, medical, and space industries together to exchange information on technological challenges they all face: fluid flow, whether oil or blood; vascular structures, both in production and in the human body; and space flight, where bacterial control matters just as it does in pipelines and surgery. ExxonMobil, Methodist Hospital and others also sponsor the Pumps and Pipes Conference

“Some of the greatest ideas come at the intersection of different industries,” Horsup says. At Pumps and Pipes, that intersection involves innovators in oil and gas, the medical industry, and space. Horsup is a past speaker at the conference and sits on the conference’s technology board

Pumps and Pipes does not fund or sponsor projects, but serves instead as an incubator for people to exchange ideas, collaborate and see where different industries might cross in solving a problem. One early exchange between ExxonMobil and Methodist Hospital came from their common need to increase the understanding of fluid flow: the petroleum engineers’ interest in rock under pressure and the heart surgeons’ study of flow patterns of blood through heart valves. The two sides discovered the control algorithms, which ExxonMobil had already developed from its work with load cells, were exactly what surgeons needed for a fluid flow vessel designed at Methodist. Such is the serendipitous nature of discoveries across industries.

It can be unnerving at times, however, to go outside the industry for solutions. Keasler, the Global Biotechnology anchor lead, presented at the Pumps and Pipes Conference in 2012. “Regardless of whether you’re in oil and gas, medicine or space flight, microbial control matters in all three,” he says. A PhD who studied at Baylor College of Medicine, he saw then in academia the medical side of bacterial issues. Now in his work at Nalco Champion, he’s trying to solve microbial issues that cause pipeline infection.

“What this conference does is leverage the learnings and experience from all three industries,” he says. “We’re looking for technology partners who have different ideas and ways of thinking about things. But when we see what these other industries are doing to solve microbial issues, it’s a little uncomfortable because you’re thinking this is not the way it’s supposed to be done. It challenges us to step outside our comfort zone and visualize game-changing solutions in a very different way.”


NEW PERSPECTIVE

THE DETERMINATION TO THINK DIFFERENTLY AND ACT DIFFERENTLY IS OPENING UP POSSIBILITIES IN PROBLEM SOLVING AND KNOWLEDGE SHARING AT NALCO CHAMPION. THE SEARCH FOR EXTERNAL SOLUTIONS TO BRIDGE TECHNOLOGY GAPS IS INTENSE AND CAN AT TIMES BE UNCOMFORTABLE. BUT LEVERAGING TECHNOLOGIES — FROM ENERGY AND WATER TO SURGERY AND SPACE — IS BOTH EXCITING AND WORTHWHILE. EXPECTATIONS ARE HUGE, AS ARE THE CHALLENGES. THE ANSWERS ARE OUT THERE. THE SEARCH TO FIND THEM REQUIRES THE NEW AND NOVEL.


Editor’s Note: The current print issue of Nalco Champion magazine incorrectly attributes the authorship of this article to Scott Redepenning. We offer our sincere apologies to Rusty Haggard, the author of both The New and Novel and Welcome to Jurong Island in Issue Two of Nalco Champion Magazine and Closing the Technology Gap in Issue One of Nalco Champion Magazine.

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