Meet the Individual Behind Dörken Innovation
Dörken has been developing products that set new standards for more than 125 years. Sustaining this level of success and growth depends on an innovation culture that we are consciously fostering and translating into practice at every level. Our research and development work consistently seeks to harness the best available technologies.
Our success is reflected in regularly receiving the award of the prestigious TOP 100 seal of approval in Germany six years and counting. In pursuit of this goal, we have established modern R&D labs that enable highly skilled employees to work on a steady stream of innovations. Product development teams, including construction membranes, are led by Dr. Thomas Bachon. With his help, we remain fully committed to maintaining our competitive position among the country’s most innovative companies.
Coming from Henkel, Dr. Bachon brings a lot of new knowledge related to self-adhering membranes. Any tweaking or fine-tuning new products runs through Dr. Bachon’s team before it goes into large-scale production. Dörken’s new DELTA®-STRATUS SA and DELTA®-FASSADE SA all grew under Dr. Bachon’s leadership, an example of how we combined existing products and existing technologies into a new product which was specially designed in response to customer needs for the North American market.
During his recent trip to Dörken’s North American manufacturing location, we asked Dr. Bachon a series of questions related to the future growth of products and the building materials industry.
Why is it important to visit North America? What can we learn from one another?
Dr. Bachon: First of all, being responsible globally for product development, we need to have an understanding for the market needs in the U.S. or know how the products are used here, else we cannot effectively do product innovation or development for this market. Therefore, we need this visit. With many projects underway, it is always better to have face-to-face meetings instead of email or telephone exchange.
It goes a long way. If you are charged with researching and developing new products for particular markets but you have never been in the market and don’t know a whole lot other than hearsay about it, it’s very difficult to drive that. It is one of the pieces to a puzzle, to be nimble and flexible and innovative and good at what you do. You have got to know the people you are working with and you have got to know the people that you are working for in the form of the end customer. We try to do German engineering for our American customers to achieve the best possible result.
When you joined Dörken three-and-a-half years ago, was there anything that surprised you or that you found interesting?
Dr. Bachon: When I started, it was a new industry to me. I came to Dörken with experience in automotive, electronic device, and consumer & craftsmen adhesive knowledge. I was concerned that things might be very different for me as a chemist. But I’ve learned that the problems and challenges in product development are the same. It’s about testing in real life. At the end, after one year, I was very happy that there are almost the same challenges and that I could use my knowledge from the adhesive business in this business in the same way.
What does it mean to be an innovative company, and how do you maintain momentum?
Dr. Bachon: We try not only to look at our current products but also to go into new markets and new applications. At the moment we focus a lot on investing into new applications. In the past, we primarily tried to improve and optimize existing products but now our focus is more on long-term growth and development.
One way to maintain momentum is listening to our customers. Recognizing the customer’s wishes and serving them with tailor-made performance is innovation for us. That’s what happened with the development of DELTA®-STRATUS SA: The market was looking for a product that we would comfortably say, “Yes, it can be exposed for a very extended period of time to UV light.” This led us to actually look at the entire aging process of these membranes and has led to different ways of analyzing the aging behaviour of products and pushing the industry into new, harder testing.
What do companies need to do to manage disruption in the building industry and continue striving for growth?
Dr. Bachon: First of all, I think you need to have the right internal processes. The innovation and project management process needs to be on a high level. Otherwise you can do so many projects but, in the end, maybe they will all fail, or you do too much, or you do the wrong projects. You need a good process for how to select projects and foster the right ideas. You need a good organization so you get a good set-up in your team to encourage but also to have the right people for the right task. Some people are better in short-term things and others are more long-term thinkers who want to work on a project for two or three years with no solution yet. Others, they need short-term wins. You also find ideas from outside, an open innovation concept to not only think internally or wait until we have new ideas – maybe our customers have the idea or we can find new innovations outside.
Are you seeing any trends coming down the pipeline in the industry in general?
Dr. Bachon: We have done a lot of trend analysis in the last year. That’s why we started reorganizing how we manage research and development. We started with global trends and then went into trends in the building industry and then from these trends, we said okay, how does this relate to our products? How could our products, our solutions, be influenced by these trends? We found some search areas where we say, okay, this is an area we should look into. Global warming, climate change, for instance: How can we influence how energy is stored or how buildings are sealed with our products? We think this is a global trend that also affects our products. In our industry, for example, pre-assembly of buildings is something which we are looking into as a current trend. Especially in Europe where in the past every building was built up stone by stone, but these days pre-assembly or prefabrication is a growing trend and affects our products.
Innovation doesn’t simply happen – it requires investment and risk taking, and depends on the interaction of passionate people. For this reason, Dörken strives to give employees the time, freedom, and autonomy they need. Dr. Thomas Bachon continues to drive these principles and values in Germany and North America simultaneously. His approach seeds new and pioneering ideas that make us and our customers happy.