Corporate Spotlight Interview: 3M

May 20, 2019 07:16 AM EST By: Regina Ramazzini

TechConnect speaks with Robert D. (Denny) Lorentz, Ph.D., Laboratory Manager at 3M.

3MRobert (Denny) Lorentz

Please tell us about yourself and your role within 3M.       

I joined 3M to work on advanced optical recording systems after receiving a BA in Physics from Cornell University, and MS and Ph.D. degrees in Applied Physics from Stanford University.  I have worked in multiple 3M organizations in various roles, including managing technology development, as a program manager working with DOE, NIST, and DARPA on advanced technology development projects, and leading our Artificial Intelligence team to develop digital solutions for all the company’s business groups.  Today, I work closely with our business development and ventures teams to integrate 3M’s technology expertise directly into these activities.  I am also involved with recruiting talented new graduates in data science to 3M.  3M is strongly committed to supporting volunteering by its employees and I’ve appreciated the opportunity to support various medical and health and human services missions.

What are technology/solution areas that you have a primary interest in?

At 3M, we apply science in collaborative ways to improve lives daily and develop solutions to help address world problems and help our customers be successful with their businesses.  We invent and commercialize products that serve myriad markets through four business groups:

Safety & Industrial serves the global industrial, electrical and safety markets with products in personal safety, adhesives and tapes, abrasives, closure and masking systems, electrical markets, automotive aftermarket, and roofing granules​.

Transportation & Electronics serves global transportation and electronic OEM customers with products for electronics (display materials and systems, electronic materials solutions), automotive and aerospace, commercial solutions, and advanced materials and transportation safety.

Health Care serves the global health care industry by providing medical solutions, oral care, separation and purification sciences, health information systems, drug delivery systems, and food safety solutions.

Consumer serves global consumers with products for home improvement, stationery and office supplies, home care, consumer health care, and retail auto care.

What level of commercial maturity do you typically look for in technology partnerships? 

3M is a diversified global manufacturer, technology innovator and marketer of a wide variety of products and services. We are interested in partnerships with academics, entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovative companies in fields related to our strategic focus areas. Ideas can be at any stage, from prototyping to late stage. To help scale our partners’ ideas, we can leverage our 51 technology platforms, 70 subsidiaries and more than 30 laboratories together with our deep commercial expertise and global customer networks. There are four fundamental strengths 3M might bring to the partnership:

Technology: Ability to share and combine elements of 3M’s broad technology portfolio to produce unique, differentiated products, translating to premium margins.

Manufacturing: Use of 3M manufacturing footprint and technology, including process trade secrets, leading to higher-performing products and lower unit cost.

Global: Operations around the world that allow for the effective development, adaptation and commercialization of products.

Brand: Brand equity in the 3M brand and in strategic brands that are shared across business groups.

Tell us why innovation is important to your company and how this model supports your efforts to find new innovations. Could you describe 1-2 policies or programs your company has in place to support external innovation?  e.g., website for folks to submit ideas, division within your company dedicated to new innovations etc

3M’s investment in innovation starts with a strong research and development culture. R&D is our heartbeat. For the last decade, 3M has invested about 6 percent of sales back into research and development every year, which in 2018 equaled an annual investment of $1.8 billion. Our investment in R&D allows us to invent and manufacture cutting-edge and relevant solutions for customers.

3M has more than 50 countries with Laboratory and Application Engineering capabilities around the world – and more than 50 Customer Technical Centers – used to collaborate with customers to develop solutions. We continue to expand our technology capabilities around the world, including at our Minnesota headquarters. 

In 2016, we invested in a cutting-edge, $150-million R&D facility on our main campus to house hundreds of our brightest scientists and researchers.  We named it the 3M Carlton Science Center, after Richard Carlton, one of 3M's earliest and most prolific R&D pioneers. It houses hundreds of scientists from multiple 3M businesses and was designed to encourage the kind of collaboration that’s core to our success. 

Within our technical community, we have a grassroots group called the Tech Forum, which was formed 67 years ago.  At that time, the R&D community realized the need to have a formalized network. So, they took initiative and formed it from the bottom up -- and the Tech Forum was born.  Today, the Tech Forum serves the same mission. Through networking and communication, The Tech Forum fosters an environment of creativity that leads to external innovation and growth.  The Tech Forum is self-organized and run by and for its members.  To connect across all of 3M’s laboratories and divisions around the world, the Tech Forum Senators serve 3M’s science community. Other chapters home in on centralized topics to enhance specialty expertise and continued learning. All this ladders up to solving today’s challenges with our customers keeping an eye to the future.   

Our 15 percent culture – instituted six decades ago – inspires creativity, risk-taking and collaboration. For decades, 15 percent culture has been a part of 3M’s innovation process. It empowers 3M employees to work on projects of their own choosing outside of their regular scope of work. Employees are encouraged to use 3M resources, build up a unique team and to follow their own insights in pursuit of problem-solving – and to spend 15 percent of their working time to do it.   3M’s 15 percent culture has led to some of our most ingenious inventions, including transdermal drug delivery adhesives and multilayer optical films used in cell phones and other electronic devices.

Why work with TechConnect and the National Innovation Summit as a technology prospector?  Who are you looking to meet with?

At 3M, scientists and engineers are eager to combine new technologies with 3M's core technologies to help solve problems around the world. In particular, we want to learn about new technologies in advanced materials and process technologies, smart infrastructure, healthcare and life sciences technologies and digitization (AI, software solutions, big data, analytics, sensors, and connectivity/IoT).

Tell us why you participate at TechConnect World? Has the TechConnect innovation matchmaking helped you find new technologies?

Throughout the years, many 3Mers have attended TechConnect, yielding new and fruitful collaborations with academics, institutes and companies.

About TechConnect World Innovation Conference:  For over 20 years the TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo has connected top applied research and early-stage innovations from universities, labs, and startups with industry end-users and prospectors. The 2019 TechConnect World Innovation event includes the annual SBIR/STTR Spring Innovation Conference, Spring AI TechConnect, the TechConnect Technical Program - more than 35 world-class technical symposium, and the Nanotech Conference Series – the world's largest and longest running nanotechnology event.

Click here for more information on the TechConnect World Innovation Conference, June 17-19, 2019.


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