When a company is more than a century old, you'd think its product ideas would be set in stone. Instead, Freudenberg Sealing Technologies (FST) has become future-oriented. Instead of focusing simply on sealing markets, FST is looking at future trends such as population growth, dwindling resources, and miniaturization, to determine how it needs to design new products. FST is tracking the coming 20 years and more with its Future Technology group.
The Future Technology group is part of FST's Advanced Product Engineering. The group uses a strategic, multi-stepped process to evaluate trends, markets, customer needs, and opportunities to identify what technologies FST should pursue.
The group began with simple goals. "Future Technology was formed in 2008, and it had a focus on trend analysis. Initially, we wanted a good understanding of the major drivers in our industry over the next 20 years," Rory Pawl, director of Future Technology, told Design News. "We identified trends such as renewable energy, weight reduction, efficiency, and miniaturization." Over time, though, the scope of the group expanded into monitoring megatrends.
FST's Future Technology group is organized into two operations -- one that oversees and manages the innovation product portfolio to fill market-segment technology gaps, and one that conducts trend research. Both operations use internal and external research to analyze how technology needs are changing and how FST should respond.
For example, the trends research team identified global warming as a megatrend. The team then matched this megatrend to corporate trends that included tighter environmental regulations and demands for higher fuel standards and lower tailpipe emissions. Products were then planned to meet those needs across a wide range of market segments.
Even with its deep roots, FST takes a long view of the future. "We've been around 135 years, but in order for us to remain viable long-term, we had to have a better focus on our market segments," Pawl told us. "We have 32 market segments and we're trying to grow in all of the segments. We want to be No. 1 or No. 2 in all of them."
The Future Technologies group takes trends one-by-one to determine what technology to produce. "One product focus is renewable energies. We actually have a dedicated sales team to follow that marketplace," said Pawl. "In the last 18 to 24 months, we've been involved in producing seals on some of the larger wind turbines. We've also been involved in the solar industry."
Population growth is another megatrend FST has targeted. "Growth is affecting a myriad of things. Global warming comes from population growth. Population growth produces Co2, greenhouse gases, agriculture development, and construction," said Pawl. He noted that efficiency needs come from population growth, as well. "We contribute to efficiency through rotating shaft seals that offer reduced friction to combat Co2."
In recent decades, FST had been focused on the automotive market. Once the company launched Future Technology, its view of potential markets expanded. Pawl said:
We took a different turn when we looked at megatrends. We now have business in food and beverage. That wasn't something we had been doing during the last 50 years, but we saw it was going to grow," said Pawl. "People will need more water and more food. We took a look at the segment and saw future growth. So we looked at how we could make an impact in that segment.
To get a clear view of the future, FST uses a number of research tools. Pawl said:
We have done an incredible amount of search engine research. We also review trade and industry associations and network in those areas. We talk with our customers to find out what they're facing in regulations or what the marketplace is asking of them. We look at what our competition is doing.
FST also follows media headlines and digs deep below the headlines. "We're following trends almost like a prospector."