TechConnect News speaks with Steven Wilkinson, Innovation Director at Armstrong Ceilings & Walls
Please tell us about yourself and your role within Armstrong Ceilings & Walls
I am the Innovation Director at Armstrong Ceilings & Walls. Our group works at the front end of innovation for both new product and new process innovation. Our team focusses on all markets within the commercial construction business with key segments being healthcare, education, workspace and transportation. For our architectural specialties business we focus on exposed structures. Having had experience in the industry since 1985, I’ve been fortunate to have several assignments in R&D, technology, global market management as wells as new business development. This experience helps in guiding our team to identify opportunities that delight customers. They add value to our company by creating market driven innovations. In order to identify opportunities and intersect the market trends with innovative solutions our R&D team needs to keep abreast with the latest technologies. Hence partnership and collaborations play an important role in our understanding what’s available to solve technical problems for the company.
What are technology/solution areas that you have a primary interest in?
In a broad sense, our interests lie in composite materials, coatings, acoustic and process technologies. Sustainable materials and chemicals are important with the continuing trend of healthier building spaces. Aesthetics are critical to our industry and so technologies that affect the materials appearance tend to garner our attention. Specifically coatings that create unique appearances and textures. Performance is required in most applications and so fire retardance, cleanability and durability of composite materials and coatings is a priority. For processing technologies, we are ramping up our knowledge in additive manufacturing and so recent innovations and advances in 3D printing and rapid prototyping are on our radar.
What level of commercial maturity do you typically look for in technology partnerships?
While we are interested in learning about the emerging technology landscape, we tend to focus on technologies that have demonstrated some level of commercial maturity rather than those in the feasibility stage. Our team operates and runs a pilot plant facility and can therefore accommodate smaller material quantities. Some of our product lines operate through contract manufacturing partnerships so understanding the level of commercialization and the ability to scale and ramp quickly is important.
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?
As market leader in ceilings & walls, innovation is critical throughout all business functions, technology, marketing, manufacturing and business development, if we are to achieve our business goals of growing faster than the market. Our team uses the familiar stage gate model with an emphasis on iterative knowledge learning throughout the R&D process that follows a spiral framework of learning in each stage. Emphasis is given to working with, or at the very least thinking through, all business function aspects when developing the first preliminary business model. Doing this creates the first basic assumptions that are constantly challenged during the stage gate process. We have a new product development team, which focuses on project management and implementation of our innovations once they have reached a certain level of uncertainty. More recently, to improve this process, we have started to adapt our innovation process to utilize agile tools, methods and mindset.
Why work with TechConnect and the National Innovation Summit as a technology prospector? Who are you looking to meet with?
Our attendance at TechConnect started in 2016 and we were impressed with the diversity of innovations at the event and liked the interactive methods created to rapidly meet and assess people and companies showcasing their innovations. This year we are attending to learn about emerging technologies as well as highlighting a couple of our own patented coating technologies that are available for license. We shall have a presentation that will introduce our company, our interests, and our recent innovations.
Tell us why you participate at TechConnect World? Has the TechConnect innovation matchmaking helped you find new technologies?
From our previous attendance at TechConnect, we were able to quickly screen those technologies that were of interest to us and then focused to make additional connections with our group members who could not attend. We did discover one company that interested us so much we invited them to our campus for a follow-up session which resulted in a joint development project. Even though this development project did not make the commercialization phase, the interaction did catalyze ideas in other areas for future evaluations/ideation sessions.
Subscribe to our mailing list, and we'll keep you posted of the latest developments.