Innovation: Generating ideas and bringing projects to life by Dorothée Chaillou and Laurent Delattre

07/22/2021 - Innovation and R&D

Today, innovation in companies is no longer the business of specialists alone. Broadening the scope of innovation allows a group like Vallourec to increase its chances of spotting new opportunities in its core business, optimize its performance, and also enrich its offer with additional activities such as digital, services, energy transition, etc. All of our employees may have ideas that bring added value to our Group and our customers. The challenges of Open Innovation allow us to develop new solutions using technologies in which our Group has less experience.

Winnov, our internal ideas platform, the Open Innovation Challenge, and Front End Innovation (FEI) workshops all promote the brainstorming of ideas, while the Booster is one of the means of executing these ideas using agile methods.

When ideas come from employees

Winnov is what allows all our employees to play a role in innovation, either by posting an idea on the platform, or by liking others’ ideas or commenting on them to take them further. “No one is as smart as all of us.” The idea itself is certainly important, but it is the dialogue between job types, regions, people – who otherwise might not speak to each other on the subject – that takes an idea to the next level.

Since the launch of Winnov in 2019, more than 400 ideas have been posted on the platform. Three of them are currently being implemented: Intelligent Drift, Asset-up, and an application being directly developed by our Service Line. Three are being rolled out and five are in the incubation stage.

Our goal is to have even more contributors, in parallel with our “serial winnovators” – this is the aim of our Yes to Innovation initiative – and to increasingly focus on Vallourec’s main business challenges. The four recurring themes are optimizing customers’ operations from design to installation; improving life of field operations, up to decommissioning; improving customer service; and opening new businesses for Vallourec. Added to these are specific focus areas for each session, such as high-margin ideas, collective intelligence, etc. This year, we have defined the focus areas with our product lines to better target their “innovation drivers.”

All ideas submitted are analyzed, from a product and business point of view, by the Winnov referents. There are two rounds of winners chosen each year. Each time, a shortlist of ideas is drawn up by D&I managers (Development & Innovation). In the October round, the regions nominate the ideas selected for the pitches, and the winning ideas are chosen during the Innovation Day pitch session, when the audience and members of the Executive Committee vote. In the March round, the winning ideas are chosen based on the consolidation of votes from the regions.

The FEI workshops, based on design thinking, are more tightly timed (one to two days, following a preparation phase). The objective is to generate ideas with a customer related to their business challenges. During the preparatory phase (which lasts from two to six months), we clarify and identify these issues with the customer, and then we’ll brainstorm about them during the workshop. The richness of the FEI workshops comes from the dialogue with participants from various Vallourec job functions and the customer. The workshops are led by an external consultant. We have also set up a variant of these workshops, the internal FEI, where we focus on the customer interviews carried out during the preparatory phase.

It is this co-construction with the customer that has enormous value for Vallourec and positions us as an innovative and differentiating supplier. Currently nine customers in the OCTG, PLP, Industry and Energy Transition sectors have already entrusted us with projects, and many internal FEIs have been carried out.

Collaborating externally to embrace new technologies

This is the main idea behind Open Innovation: to be able to quickly integrate expertise that is not in our usual sphere of action. The successful Big Data collaboration with Saagie, launched in 2016, prompted us to hold an annual Open Innovation challenge, which is open to the ecosystem of start-ups, SMEs, and labs. We are seeking technologies that can be adapted to our products and services, and which are sufficiently advanced as to be able to quickly build a prototype.

A platform is open for the duration of the challenge (four to five months). Through external communication, staff networking, and targeted scouting, we collect between 30 and 50 valuable ideas per challenge. Each proposal is reviewed with the company proposing the idea to fully understand its relevance for Vallourec. Four to five companies are then selected to pitch their proposal on Innovation Day.

Our objective is of course to accelerate the development and value of our offers by collaborating with partners who are experts in these new technologies. Beyond this objective, the Open Innovation challenges give visibility to Vallourec as an innovative company and raise awareness of us among start-ups. We have thus established fruitful partnerships with Saagie and with OpenField (intelligent pipes). In line with Vallourec’s interests and those of the applicant company, we define win-win collaboration agreements. Our collaborations can take different forms: co-development, consulting, internal R&D study based on external ideas, etc.

This year, we are focusing our efforts on issues specific to our product lines, such as the automation of pipe yards or the generation of power from marine energy.

Going from concept to reality

This is where Booster, or Phase Gate methodology, comes in, applied to our areas of expertise (new connections, new steel grades), for the development of valuable solutions outside our core business.

Booster and its agile methods allow us to develop the technical solution at the same time that we clarify the need and value for the customer.

Each Booster brings together business solutions leveraging a single new technology, in order to reach a critical mass and pool technical resources both internally and externally. Indeed, having several solutions to propose to customers, combined with agile interactions, makes it possible to quickly position Vallourec as a leader in these offers based on new technology.

Two Boosters are currently in progress at Vallourec, with very successful results: Digital and Additive Manufacturing. These develop offers and business by leveraging various things: the first on data and digital technologies, the second on additive manufacturing (which runs from partial addition of material to manufacturing a part using 100% additive manufacturing).

The essential difference between idea and innovation is execution – that is to say, the ability to transform an idea into a value-added project. But this transformation is possible only thanks to the strong commitment of our teams. We salute them!

About the authors

Dorothée Chaillou

After completing a doctorate at IFPen in fuel formulation, Dorothée Chaillou joined Air Liquide Group as R&D project manager. Her career then turned to innovation as R&D innovation team manager, then project manager for Accelair (the Air Liquide start-up accelerator). She joined Vallourec in late 2019 as FEI manager.

Laurent Delattre

Laurent Delattre graduated from ESPCI Paris. After completing a doctorate in materials science at Université Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, he joined Saint-Gobain. In 2002, he joined the Vallourec Research Center. There, he oversaw research projects in metallurgy and corrosion for the automotive and OCTG markets; in 2013, he was assigned to heading up skills development and innovation within VRCF. In 2017, he joined the Innovation team to support Project Managers, and since 2019 he has been Open Innovation manager.

Winnovators’ point of view

Look all around you to see what can be improved. If you believe in an idea, don’t let anyone stop you from making it happen. If you need help convincing management, ask for it. Don’t give up, even if you can’t convince everyone.

Alastair Brodie Senior Technical Manager, VAM® Field Service

We need every Vallourec employee to get involved in this process. Not just a few engineers, sales or marketing teams – but everyone, from operators to board members. The more points of view, the more innovative ideas there will be. All employees should have an innovation goal in their annual performance review.

Shaun Blues Managing Director, VAM® FAR EAST

The Winnov team offered valuable support for our proposal and helped us develop our skills, set up a working group, and assisted us in specific areas such as HR.

Shaun Blues Managing Director, VAM® FAR EAST

The Winnov team offered valuable support for our proposal and helped us develop our skills, set up a working group, and assisted us in specific areas such as HR.

Amandine VAUGON Ingénieur R&D, Vallourec Research Center Connections (VRCC)

There is no limit to where innovation can be applied – industrial, commercial, services, administrative, etc. – provided that it adds value to the supplier-Vallourec-customer triad.

Nicolas Ego VP Industrial Performance


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