The importance of innovation and how we approach it

We’re determined to lead the change towards a circular economy in our industry. To do that and to be able to keep offering our customers the best products available, we invest heavily in innovation.
Interview with Ville Nurminen - Head of Research and Development

Determined to lead the change towards a circular economy

In this interview with our Head of Research and Development Ville Nurminen, we dive into how and why we go about our innovation work for BEWI RAW, our raw material division.

What is innovation to you?

– My favourite definition is Anything that’s new, useful and surprising. I think that sums it up nicely in a few words. To elaborate innovation is the introduction of new products and services that add value to the organization. It’s important to point out the difference between creativity and innovation. Creativity is thinking something new, whereas innovation is the implementation of something new.

What about EPS innovation, what are the big milestones?

– To be honest, there hasn’t been any revolutionary innovations since EPS was invented in the 1950’s. I think that’s mainly due to the fact that EPS was a great material from the start, and still is. For EPS, innovation has happened through many improvements and I think the biggest improvement yet is the innovation of grey EPS. I might add that grey EPS contains graphite, which improves its insulation capacity by 20%. On top of making it grey. Another major invention is flame retardant EPS, which is used for extra fire security in insulation applications.

Have there been any other improvements worth mentioning?

– Sure, and we work with such improvements constantly. These innovations are often minor tweaks that however have a big impact for our clients and for the environment. For example, we have improved processing, production and properties such as compressive and bending strength as well as water absorption. We also look at density, which can save our customers quite a lot.

Is it possible to develop EPS further?

– Sure, we already have and keep striving to do that everyday. But to develop something that will completely revolutionize EPS as a product, I find it unlikely. 

How do you work with innovation?

– We’re fairly practical about it and currently work with several well-defined projects and they keep us occupied. But we do have time allocated for research and investigative work, where we look for new ideas that may merit further studying. 

Do you work together with customers in your innovation projects?

– We constantly work together with customers. Their feedback and thoughts are invaluable to us and often serve as pointers to where we should look in order to improve our products further.

How do you identify innovation projects?

– Usually we define our projects in collaboration with our downstream business units and the technical working groups that we have in place internally. We also find projects through feedback and dialogue with customers and these often origin from our sales representatives or customer service. They provide us with customer feedback and thoughts. We also depend on inspiration from conferences and exhibitions, but covid has not made this possible the latest couple of years. 

What has BEWI developed during the latest years?

– XIRE and BioFoam. The former is a new raw material for insulation that combines fire safety with the best health conditions. But in terms of innovation, BioFoam is bigger. It’s a completely new material with properties similar to EPS although it’s organic and can be composted into soil. It’s also a good example of where our priorities align, our customer and sustainability focus.

How is BEWI RAW organized for innovation?

– We have two sites, Etten-Leur and Porvo. At the former, we’re currently in a process of bringing all R&D departments together so that we have everything in one place, just as the setup is at the Porvoo site. At both sites we have the equipment and facilities required to do our work. These include labs, pilot reactors and scales, to name a few. 

What do you do on any given day?

– We’re most likely running batches in our pilot reactors and trials in our pilot-scale moulding machines and pre-expanders. We’re also probably busy with lab-scale testing and performing different lab analyzes and physical test analyses as well as testing the final product in different ways.

Why do we innovate and why is it important?

– The innovation is fundamental to all companies. Everything is constantly changing and if you don’t adapt, if you don’t innovate yourself, then you won’t last. Today, change is at a pace not seen before, and that adds to the pressure on everyone working with innovation. We have to be fast and active in order to quickly react and adapt when something changes in the business or industry. 

How does it show that innovation is a part of BEWI’s strategy?

– We have established innovation on group level, which will further strengthen our focus on innovation and increase resources for us. Eventually it will show in results such as more new products, technologies and processes that we offer the market. 

What are BEWI’s principles of innovation?

– We have a philosophy rather than concrete principles. Our philosophy is that all improvements are good, even if they don’t come from us. It’s unfortunately common for companies to block each other’s inventions with for examples patents and other disrupting actions. We don’t do that, we want the industry to evolve and develop and we believe that will happen faster if more ideas reach the market. And considering the climate challenge, it’s daft to stall innovations that can benefit us all.

Questions or want more information?

Ville Nurminenavatar

Ville Nurminen

Head of Research and Development