At PolyOne Corp., getting an idea is only the first step in a process. Then the real work begins.
``We're refocusing our innovation effort,'' said Cecil Chappelow, the firm's chief innovation officer and vice president of research and innovation. ``It's not just about product development and new materials.
``There's more of a framework now, a more systematic approach,'' he said during a recent interview at PolyOne headquarters in Avon Lake. ``It's not just guys working in the lab. We're looking at how to prioritize and how to go for market penetration.''
``We start with the voice of the customer and ask `Where do we fit?' '' added marketing Vice President Randy Fortin.
Chappelow joined PolyOne earlier this year after a 29-year career with Air Products and Chemicals Inc., where he held a number of technology-related positions. Fortin came aboard in late 2006 after a stint at chemicals maker Cytec Industries Inc.. The two are part of an effort initiated by Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Newlin to make better use of PolyOne's intellectual assets.
``When we talk about innovation here, it's a structured approach,'' Chappelow said. ``That's a fundamental shift in the company. We're not just managing an [research and development] portfolio.''
At the center of this approach is a four-phase process that determines how PolyOne officials approach new efforts.
The first phase involves reviewing the market and technology for a potential new material, but includes very little lab work. If a concept gets past phase one, it reaches phase two, which includes cost analysis, a developmental plan, external validation and market development with customers. Each of the first two phases is designed to last no more than a month.
>From there, it's on to stage three, which covers prototyping with customers. ``That's where the R&D work really gears up,'' Chappelow said. ``Then we can tee it up with our marketing team.
``Otherwise, you can spend a lot of money doing innovation without there being a market for it. We have to ask if there's enough potential return for PolyOne. Can we create a potential advantage?''
If prototyping is successful, PolyOne makes ``a commitment to launch.'' This fourth step includes scale-up work, test marketing and semicommercial production.
One product recently developed via the new method is PolyOne's line of bioadditives: color compounds and processing aids based on sustainable, natural materials. The products also are biodegradable and can be used with bioresins such as polylactic acid and polyhydroxyalkanoate.
PolyOne also has been taking steps to integrate the new method on the personnel side. So far this year, it has added 100 employees worldwide in the areas of technology, marketing and sales.
``In the past, we had been adding technology people but haven't been making the right additions to the marketing side,'' Fortin said. ``As a result, we had too much technology staff and not enough marketing, and we needed to balance that out.''
In PolyOne's other product areas, Chappelow described the idea pipeline for PVC-based products as ``among the most active and balanced'' in the entire firm. Work in that area recently has yielded higher-heat products in darker colors for window profiles.
Color compounds and concentrates are another area that's ``rich for specialization,'' he said.
The new process already has changed PolyOne's approach to nanotechnology, a much-hyped area where PolyOne's has had commercial products available since 2004.
``We've put nanotech in some areas and taken it out of others,'' Chappelow said. ``It's working in engineered materials for injection molding, but it doesn't have the barrier properties you need in some applications.''
PolyOne leads North American compounding with a 10 percent market share. The firm posted 2007 first-half sales of $1.3 billion, roughly flat with the 2006 period.