Techconnect News interview with Cristina Thomas, Senior Technical Leader within the Corporate Research and Development (R&D) at 3M.
Please tell us about yourself and your role within 3M.
I joined 3M in 1992 as a Senior Research Engineer in the Life Sciences Sector laboratory after completing undergraduate degrees in Chemistry and Mathematics in Venezuela and a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 1992 (specializing in Polymer Science and Engineering) from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Prior to 3M, I worked in the Venezuelan oil industry (MARAVEN) and in IBM (New York) performing scientific engineering computations.
Initially, I contributed to 3M new technology and product development projects by applying and leading computational materials modeling and commercializing products for pavement markings, windshield sealants, and window films and attachments (solar control and safety), among others.
I have had a variety of assignments including Strategy Manager, Laboratory Manager and Commercialization Manager for the Traffic Safety and Security Division, Design for Six Sigma (DFSS) Technical Black Belt in the former Building Safety Solutions Division and Group Leader of the Materials Modeling Group in the former Advanced Materials Technology Center.
Currently, I am a Senior Technical Leader within the Corporate Research and Development (R&D) organization. My team is responsible for providing services to the R&D community at 3M, including knowledge discovery and analytics, global technical learning and collaboration, government R&D contracts, and laboratory environmental, health and safety.
I have a passion for leading organizations that move new technologies and new product platforms into markets, for organizational change management and for women in science, including their development and leadership. I live in Stillwater, Minnesota with my husband and three children.
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.
Industrial - Fabricating, assembling or processing is the stronghold of what we do and apply to products like ultra-strong abrasives and adhesives and advances that literally make materials lighter weight.
Healthcare – This market is evolving rapidly. 3M meets health care professionals’ challenges they face to treat their patients with restoratives and prosthodontics for oral care; vascular access; sterilization for patient care, advanced medical dressings for wound care, food safety detection, drug delivery—even stethoscopes.
Safety and Graphics – Experts aim to keep the workplace safe with safety glasses, hearing protection, respirators; premium films for graphics and core reflective sheeting for road signs and highway markers; connected safety and technologies and materials to enhance intelligent transportation; and water filtration for purification.
Electronics and Energy - Software and electronics are at the forefront of the electronics revolution with infrastructure and digital advances in fluids to cool super computers; products that extinguish fires; energy technologies that support the electrical grid, connectors and cables; battery materials; specialty glass, display film, and electrical tapes.
Consumer- Delivering efficiency to home and office to suit every day needs with hooks coated with adhesive release that hang household items, cleaning and repair materials, crafts; Post-it® and Scotch® solutions; and furnace filters for cleaner air.
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 46 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: Utilization of 3M manufacturing footprint and technology, including process trade secrets, leading to higher-performing products and lower unit cost.
Global: Subsidiary front- and back-office footprint that allows 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?In today’s business world, innovation is a mantra of success. 3M is a global innovation company that never stops inventing. Over the years, our innovations have improved daily life for hundreds of millions of people all over the world. We have made driving at night easier, made buildings safer, and made consumer electronics lighter, less energy-intensive and less harmful to the environment. Every day at 3M, one idea always leads to the next, igniting momentum to make progress possible around the world. Discoveries are the foundation for marketable innovations that hold immense promise. It takes flexibility and creativity and willingness to take risk to be innovative. 3M was founded 116 years ago and our formula for business success was the same then as now. Science and knowhow applied the right way touches people worldwide with breakthroughs that make our customers’ lives better, easier and make a difference in the world and in the workplace.
Within our technical community, we have a group called the Tech Forum. It is a grassroots organization that was formed 66 years ago. 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. With 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 is run by and for its members. To connect across all of 3M’s laboratories and divisions in countries 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 Fifteen Percent Culture is embedded in the company’s DNA. It gives employees the freedom to explore new technologies and ideas that can merit the company. This culture supports employee leadership and promotes the ability to access the company’s candy store of technology platforms. A couple of successes that Fifteen Percent Culture spawned include 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, scientist and engineers are eager to combine new technologies with 3M’s core technologies to help solve problems around the world. We want to learn about new technologies in particular in advanced materials and process technologies, smart infrastructure, healthcare and life sciences technologies and digitization (software solutions, big data, analytics, sensors, and connectivity/IoT).
Tell us why you participate at TechConnect World (1-2 sentences)? 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.
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