Globalization has meant that the development of tyres (tires) has become increasingly complex and dynamic. Technology Roadmapping (TRM) can be a useful tool but knowledge of how to embed this approach into the overall innovation strategy and its value in enhancing the process is relatively limited.
Guido Amati and his co-authors Virna Motta and Riccardo Vecchiato looked at how Pirelli approached TRM. Their findings are in the paper “Roadmapping for innovation management: evidence from Pirelli” published by R&D Management.
Here Guido talks about the research and some of the interesting outcomes.
Q. The paper says that the “challenge of managing innovation under growing uncertainty has encouraged the rethinking of traditional approaches to technology and product development” – what do you consider were the main issues with the traditional approaches, were they inflexible, too time consuming?
A. In the last decade, the automotive context has seen a huge increase in complexity – the number of vehicle platforms, models, different tyre fitments – have led to an explosion in the number of development projects to be conducted by the tyre makers for the OEMs.
However in parallel with this globalization of the premium European car makers has forced tyre makers to put a huge effort into providing the same level of top technology all around the world. There is a risk that this could reduce the amount of time and resources that could be dedicated to research and innovation.
To counter this, R&D must work in a fully systematic integrated way to be efficient, effective and fast.
Q. You comment that this growing complexity and pace of change drove Pirelli to deeply revise its R&D efforts and overall innovation process to sustain the long-term performance of the company – how was this issue recognised? Falling sales? Falling market share?
A. Competition among Tier 1 players in the tyre industry is based on product and technology. Pirelli defined a strategy that moved the company focus to the high-value segment of the market, where product and technology are the key success factors, with demanding growth targets in terms of market share in the segment, overall profitability and value generation.
Prestige and premium cars have reached extreme levels in speed and power. As the tyre is the only point of contact with the road it must ensure the driver’s safety and keep the vehicle on track; in any conditions.
Moreover, for premium but also prestige applications, this safety must be ensured together with compliance with an ever increasing number and level of regulatory requirements. These are mainly oriented towards environmental sustainability, including the rolling resistance of tyres, which strongly affects vehicle fuel consumption and consequently CO2 emissions, and tyre rolling noise.
In addition, Pirelli introduced important innovations in its tyres – pushed both by OEMs’ requirements and also by its own technology roadmap – these aimed to extend mobility in case of pressure lost, to reduce interior noise, perceived by the occupants of the cabin, and to develop intelligent tyres equipped with an internal sensor.
To achieve this, the organisations needed to design a virtual model for its R&D function that was able to support the integration of experts belonging to different silos via a new system. The result was a brand new organizational process that enabled managers to ‘play’ with the tool in order to proceed towards many and demanding technological goals.
Being organized, moving forward every day with the right set of updated information, was the aim.
Q. The team expanded the project portfolio management and built a new database that tracked the likely impact of new technologies on product features and manufacturing processes. The aim was to create ‘Innovation Miner’ a more complete repository of the R&D and innovation knowledge available in the company. Was this repository forward looking? How did you evaluate the impact of new technology on product features; were you able to look beyond the ‘known market’?
A. For sure, the system has helped Pirelli to be fast in reacting to sudden shifts in the business and the technology environments. Mapping of a new technological idea or concept forces each expert to systematically consider every possible impact of his idea both in the product (performances and components) and in the factory. Often, this requires discussions with product experts and managers.
Once the structure of the model had been designed, then a well-organized project aimed at collecting data and change management, was set up with the valuable support of Milan-based partner Strategie & Innovazione. All these represent a new set of organizational capabilities for Pirelli (well depicted by Riccardo Vecchiato’s research at Kingston University).
Now, by mean of just a different enquiry, the organization could set-up itself towards achieving upcoming new priorities. And this is exactly what’s happening now, with the shift towards the new automotive – electric and autonomous – and the focus on product cost as a consequence of the changes in the industry after the so-called Diesel-gate.
Q. iMiner has supported the systematic gathering of information in the typical initial idea discovery stage of a stage-gate innovation process – was this information not available before? How had the company previously managed this process?
A. This information was available but not in a formal repository. Before the iMiner, the gathering of the above information was largely unstructured and informal; after the iMiner and technology roadmap (TRM), it became a formal, methodic process that improves the collection of and access to the existing pool of knowledge available within the whole company.
The R&D jobs in a tyre company are very diverse – a piece of knowledge in molecular dynamics can directly impact what a test driver perceives when driving a supercar on a track – but you contextually need to invent new production processes, equipment and machineries, without speaking about a smart tyre with electronics inside.
You need a model (and a system) to manage properly all this. You have to shift from a qualitative to a quantitative approach. It’s a matter of both innovation boost and speed. The system provides a clear information picture able to create immediate consensus in meetings towards what should be surely done, challenges and opportunities, with contextual bottom-up and top-down validation. The traditional flow of the same information through the hierarchical levels requires much more time.
On the other side, such meetings are the very places where innovation must emerge (the system suggests who are the people to put together towards a specific goal) you do not have more to rely on just random encounters. Another benefit is knowledge (tacit, ‘sticky’ and complex) retention in case of turn-over of researchers and managers.
Q. The core innovation to TRM is the iMiner database, which currently serves as a flexible and easily accessible repository for the collective knowledge of Pirelli – How do you know it was successful in helping Pirelli to achieve its aims? What is Pirelli now doing differently as a result of the TRM process and iMiner?
A. iMiner represents a powerful tool (‘one-click’) for technology intelligence inside the company: the ‘Mine’ activity (the ‘know to know’ box) in the toolbox developed by Letizia Mortara at University of Cambridge, considering also the presence in Pirelli of a well-established unified environment for document sharing about R&D projects and knowledge, which enables the ‘Trawl’ (‘don’t know to know’) in the same framework.
In addition, recently collected feedback, showed that in the last two years (March 2018 – March 2020), 273 R&D and innovation managers directly accessed the iMiner at least once; the overall amount of accesses to the database was 84,038.
In the same time period, 10 TRM exercise were completed within the company, which involved the direct participation of 96 R&D and product managers; 286 R&D projects and 76 new marked tyres (i.e., customized tyre products for premium automotive makers) benefited from these TRM exercises.
To read the paper: Roadmapping for innovation management: evidence from Pirelli