November 27, 2008

Eliminating a real pain point

When I was speaking in Chile last week, one of the speakers represented DuPont Latin America. As with other divisions of DuPont, they are charged with coming up with new applicants for the company’s materials. The case he discussed was the application of Kevlar, a heavy duty fiber invented in 1965 and quickly applied to bullet proof vests.

In the US, DuPont has released “StormRoom,” a way of armoring a closet or other interior room to provide safety in the event of a hurricane or tornado. The design requirements are severe:
FEMA has created a national standard [that] requires structures to withstand high wind loads and to resist a 12ft, 15lb, 2’x4’ building timber shot at the shelter at 100 mph. 100mph is how fast a 250+mph wind will carry the 2’x4’. …The DuPont™ StormRoom™ with KEVLAR® meets the national requirements for hurricane and tornado shelters.
In the US, there are roughly 50 tornado deaths a year. Hurricane deaths are more variable, but one estimate put it at about 20 per year (although 2004 and 2005 had atypically high fatality totals).

In Latin America, DuPont has found a bigger pain point: the high murder rate in several countries. For example, Brazil has nearly 50,000 murders annually. The problem is large enough to be a concern of the middle class, beyond just the executives who are targets of kidnapping schemes.

Thus DuPont has unveiled Armura, a retrofit solution for passenger cars that uses Kevlar for door panels and SentryGlas laminate layer for windows.

The advantages of this solution over previous car armoring solutions are weight and cost. The solution adds 75 lbs. (90 kg) to a passenger sedan. In October 2008, DuPont Brazil unveiled solution. It offers the solution for BRL 16,000 or US $7,250 tailored for specific Toyota and Chevy models.

Using branch offices to find applications is not strictly open innovation. But it certainly is in the spirit of open innovation of decentralizing commercialization beyond the R&D lab or HQ marketing.

When I heard about Armura, it directly reminded me of Figure 4.3 (p. 77) of our 2006 book from the chapter on open innovation by RPI’s Gina O’Connor. Gina showed how (a decade ago) DuPont used an ad in Scientific American to solicit applications for its then new Biomax polymer based on renewable resources.

As I said in my own talk — prepared before the DuPont talk — DuPont is the exemplar of the vertically integrated firm of the late 19th or early 20th century. Our understanding of the development of DuPont and other such firms comes from Strategy and Structure and other books of Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. The “D” stands for Dupont., as his great-grandmother was raised by the DuPont family.

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