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Innovation 101, Lesson 2: Technical Models



A century after Edison, technical models allow faster more effective trials and error.



By Dr. Ali Alwattari, New Product Developer and Innovation Author



Published April 29, 2010
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Developing successful new products often involves evaluating whether existing technologies can be integrated with new technologies to achieve a desired new product benefit. Many would-be innovators, however, “pre-commit” to one, existing, available technology even though there is no evidence it can deliver the next, higher level of performance.

So, how do you find the highest probability and most relevant technology area before pulling the trigger on prototyping, testing, packaging and other “end game” stuff? A highly effective way to increase confidence of innovation is to take different hypotheses and technical approaches for a “test drive” before you dump tons of money, brainpower, stress, and time into a project. A “technical model” is a specific statement of one or more “actual phenomena” that must occur for a product to do the “something new” you want it to do. Think about it like this: before driving from one city to another, don’t you have to decide the route? Well, innovation is the same. Go without a “technical roadmap,” you’ll probably get lost; have one ready, you’re more likely to reach your goal or milestone.

Case in point – a new product idea was to create a sun protection wipe that mothers could take with them to the beach or the park that would allow quick, less messy and faster drying protection of their family’s skin. In focus groups and consumer tests, moms liked the idea but there was a barrier for the product development team—3 to 4 wipes were needed to cover a child because the sunscreen lotion tended to get trapped in the wipe and seemed to “stop coming out of the wipe,” meaning many wipes were needed to finish the job.

The product development team had tried to adjust the cloth materials and manufacturing conditions but only got a 10% boost in lotion release. This was the limit of the existing cloth technology.

Once we accepted and believed this fact, we asked: “is this even the right sandbox of technology to be playing in?” Answering required a simple but fundamentally different model to describe what controls performance. The model simply stated: “lotion can stay in or go out—how do different technologies we can think of do these two jobs and what are their issues?”

Approach Release Trap Issues
Cloth (current technology) Low High Traps costly lotion
Pouch High Low Not thin enough to fold and pack wipes
Sponge High High Not disposable, too squishy, costs
Deep texture cloth High High Pretty good, slight cost to make

Adding texture to the cloths was the most likely and most practical solution. This allowed rapid screening of effective and affordable materials until one was found that was commercially feasible. Note, the key innovation element here was the up front thinking and screening and the refusal to be bound by the tiny scope of variables that earlier technology was forcing. We found an alternate solution by creating an alternate mechanism for delivering the consumer benefit—increased lotion release without losing lotion “capacity.”

©Ali Alwattari 2010


About the Author
Dr. Ali Alwattari is with Procter & Gamble as an R&D and New Product Development scientist introducing new technologies. He is the inventor on 10 patents and applications including elastic polymers for Cover Girl No Smudge Mascara, controlled stress wrinkle reducers for Olay technology pipeline and controlled release substrate for Pampers Sunnies sunscreen wipes.

Prior to joining P&G, Dr. Alwattari was with Gillette serving as New Product Development manager and scientist leading innovation for Shave Preps and Post Shave Skin Care. New technologies validated and transitioned into product development included color visual signal shave gels, post shave cooling gel-wipes, high lubricity shave gels and self-heating shave creams.

Prior to that, he was an R&D scientist with Nexis Biotechnologies.

Dr. Alwattari received his BS in chemical engineering from MIT and a PhD in chemical engineering from the University of Texas Austin.

He can be reached at: alwattari@alum.mit.edu or 513-375-9190




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