Where Can We Help Accelerate Innovation?
Innovation and Technological Advances
Where Can We Help Accelerate Innovation?
Speed was always crucial in innovation. Whether in solving a problem or bringing a new solution to market, being first can make all the difference. Ever shorter innovation cycles and lower entry barriers for competitors make it harder to stay ahead of the curve. At Clariant, new ways of doing research and a unique approach to joint product development help bringing new ideas to life faster and more reliably.
External Expert Interview
Tiago Merckel Haugg
Tiago worked with Clariant to develop three different dairy-alternative beverages in record time for Piá, a leading Brazilian dairy cooperative.
How can we help customers accelerate innovation?
Tiago, Piá was first established over 50 years ago as a milk farmers’ cooperative and now is one of southern Brazil’s leading dairy companies. Why did you decide to also offer non-dairy substitutes?
Piá is about healthy food, regardless of whether that is milk or any other product. We see a growing trend for plant-based products. That’s why we launched a complete new line not only of vegetable-based beverages, but also other vegetable-based dairy substitutes. We see it as a way to retain consumers who’ve stopped consuming milk for different reasons, be it health issues or personal beliefs about animal welfare.
How is that trend manifesting itself?
We witnessed a strong trend in Europe and the United States, with dairy brands buying out vegetable-based companies. Brazil’s market is in an emerging stage, but we made the strategic decision to be the first to build up such a portfolio and use our well-established distribution system here in Brazil.
You partnered with Clariant to develop the product. What were your requirements?
We wanted a good level of quality at a fair cost, but the product also had to work within our existing assets and manufacturing processes.
What made that challenging?
Apart from the technical challenge, there was also a very close deadline. We had only six or seven months because we wanted to launch the new product line at our region’s leading trade fair for supermarkets.
Why was that so important?
It’s the difference between introducing your product to the whole sector within two days or having to go door-to-door to about 15 000 customers.
How long would a project like this usually take?
There is no general answer to this question. Complex projects like this can take up to two years.
How did Piá and Clariant work together?
Clariant presented some concepts and market opportunities. Then we started the development phase with the R&D team, prototyping and negotiating. They set up pilot plant tests and then we moved on to industrial testing.
How would you describe that collaboration?
What stood out for me was the interest and effort in speeding up the process to meet our deadline. That was really exceptional! It went very smoothly, which is amazing, considering we were developing a new product and a new process with new ingredients and even a new supplier.
What was particularly important in this project?
I think the most important aspect was trust. Both companies had to share some very valuable information. We worked very closely on a technical level but also shared ideas on things like marketing, regulation, and packaging.
How’s the new product doing with consumers?
We’re still developing the market, and we have some work to do in increasing volumes. But the feedback we’ve gotten so far is positive, especially regarding the product’s sensory properties and its packaging.
What are you working on now? Has the collaboration spawned any new ideas?
We started working on some important new projects with Clariant. We’re testing new flavors and new packaging sizes. And we’re also developing vegetable-based yogurt products.
Internal Expert Interview
Via High Throughput Experimentation (HTE), Lucius and his global team help Clariant to efficiently explore new research areas while boosting innovation output.
What helps us test more ideas faster?
Lucius, what is the HTE lab you’re building in Houston, Texas, right now?
The High Throughput Experimentation (HTE) lab in Houston is a satellite facility to the HTE lab we have established in Frankfurt, Germany. The instrumentation, infrastructure, and operational model are a direct clone of the facility in Frankfurt. This ensures that our efforts in extending these capabilities to the Americas region deliver the same successes as those experienced in Europe. The same concept will be applied in the HTE expansion to Asia.
How does HTE speed up research?
HTE approaches are a collection of research practices that are designed to deliver more information, hopefully with less effort. The more we understand about our processes and products, the better we can design solutions that deliver the required performance. Enhanced experimental design, automation-assisted execution, big data evaluation, and modeling are concepts that enable this in-depth knowledge.
Automation is nothing new to the industry. What sets the Clariant HTE group apart from the rest?
In most environments, automation is deployed for a particular process. At Clariant, for example, we successfully use high throughput screening for the development and optimization of catalysts at the Business Unit Catalysts or for the screening of enzymes and microorganisms in our Technology Platform Biotechnology. We have designed a laboratory that truly automates research from end to end with a broader scope of applications.
How does that increase efficiency?
The efficiency gained from automation comes from numbers, reproducibility, and times of operation. Many of our instruments work in parallel, and many reactions are being conducted simultaneously. Having operations run continuously, overnight and weekends, greatly increases the throughput when compared to classical laboratory approaches. This allows us to explore the full solution space. The efficiency is realized by gaining more knowledge in a shorter amount of time, thus providing answers and ultimately solutions faster.
How do you design experiments differently?
By initially focusing on the most important aspects required for screening, we can streamline efforts that will deliver results with the greatest impact. We employ software tools and statistical analysis to better understand the process and point us to the most promising areas for testing. This often yields solutions that can easily be overlooked with classical approaches.
How do you physically set up the experiments?
This was actually the biggest challenge when designing the first HTE lab. As a central research group we serve all Clariant Business Units. One day we synthesize molecules for personal care applications, the next day we optimize formulations for a refinery and the next, we model the stability of chocolate milk. So our lab is designed to allow quick transitions from one workflow to another.
Does HTE increase sustainability?
Yes, one way is by miniaturizing experiments. We can run experiments on much smaller scales compared to a standard chemical lab, thus using less raw materials and generating less waste. This both decreases costs and supports the progress towards Clariant’s environmental targets.
Will this type of automation replace people?
No, not at all. Often when brainstorming on a new research area, a great deal of ideas are generated and discussed. But time and resources are finite, which in turn limits the number of ideas that can realistically be explored. Automation allows for more. We use automation at Clariant to enable broad screening and exploration of the solution space. The information gained is then fed into the application labs of each Business Unit to help them determine where to focus their efforts and ultimately increase their chances of success in the market.