From developing complete beverage line processes to pioneering
packaging technology and services, innovation is a driving force at
Sidel. Isabelle Maillot, Vice President of Product Innovation,
talks about how her team ensures Sidel continues to help beverage
producers remain at the forefront of market developments.
Q. Where does your team get ideas for new innovations
A. They come from everywhere! But mainly from what we hear from
the front-line talks with our customers. When our people talk to
customers on site they can see what their needs are and find out
more about how our solutions can help. We also have regular
innovation days with our customers and suppliers. All of this
input goes into our work and the brainstorming sessions we use to
get new ideas.
My team closely follows new market, packaging and technology
trends. We attend exhibitions and trade shows, such as
pharmaceutical, automation and even military technology shows. This
lets us see how innovation and ideas are used in other
Q. But how similar are these industries to the beverage
A. If we, for example, look at the aerospace and military
industries, they are driven by research and are not as cost-focused
as the beverage industry. They are often first with new materials
and coatings. We keep track of the evolution of these trends and at
a certain point when it is well integrated and proven, we can use
it in our solutions.
It's a balance between finding the right time to be first to
market and at the same time with a technology that has been proven,
that is also cost-effective and reliable to offer to beverage
Q. It sounds like you get lots of proposals for
innovation projects. How do you select which to work
A. We have a process in place to help us decide
which ideas to work with. We need to be sure that the project
benefits our customers both today and tomorrow. Therefore we work
both with ideas that we can realise in the short-term, and we also
have a pipeline of more long-term ideas with the potential to be
The product and account managers are important in this process
as they have direct contact with our customers. They know whether
an innovation development answers a real customer need. If it
doesn't it will just be a great technological idea with no real
customer value - and not a project we want to work on.
Each month, we have a team meeting to discuss all the
ideas we've received and we assess them using defined criteria and
processes. However, there is still an element of instinct
Q. What role does instinct play?
A. Innovation is something that disturbs the standard process.
If you use too many processes and criteria, you tend to end up with
the safest ideas. And the safest ideas are generally the ones that
everyone else is also considering. This can result in a "me-too"
That's where instinct comes in. And because we have people on
the team who know the market, the customers and industry, their
instinct is highly valuable.
Q. So when you decide to invest in an innovation
project, are you sure that it will be a success?
A. No, we can never be sure. We usually start with a business
case and then we have targets that we need to meet on the way. We
use risk analysis techniques and work using the Six Sigma process
methodology that is widely used in the automotive industry. But if
we have a lot of customers who are demanding and validating the
project, then we can be more confident.
Q. How involved are beverage producers in Sidel's
A. It varies greatly. Some are very involved in our work and
want to influence the development process, which allows us to take
more of a long-term view in developing solutions for their needs.
This collaboration is not always about the big breakthroughs but
often about incremental innovation. For example, they might have
the equipment and want to improve its performance. However, all of
our customers are different and others prefer proven
Q. From the customer point-of-view, what are the big
drivers for innovation?
A. The packaging itself is the main driver. Any
technology or innovation that helps manufacturers produce the
packaging they want, in terms of performance, bottle weight,
product safety, at the lowest cost is what they are looking
Reducing total cost of ownership, or TCO, is without doubt a big
part of this. This is a broad theme and covers the equipment,
costs, maintenance, energy and resource consumption, and need for
labour. By focusing on TCO, we can also impact sustainability,
which is high on the agenda for most of our customers.
As part of reducing TCO, we're working a great deal with machine
intelligence. This kind of artificial intelligence is a big theme
right now. This is how the machine learns by itself from the data
it receives. Over time this will lead to the machine making better
choices than we humans can make - from adjustments to production
processes to predictive maintenance when the machine itself knows
it needs a spare part.
Q. Which of Sidel's innovations are you most proud
A. PredisTM has
been a real breakthrough and is a project we're all proud of. It
has improved sustainability, ease of use and product integrity for
beverage producers. This dry preform decontamination solution works
using no water and very few chemicals, which has challenged
traditional assumptions that complex blowers with a high chemical
consumption are the only way to produce aseptically.
Our IntelliblowerTM is
another solution that I'm very proud to have been involved in. This
solution takes a first step towards machine intelligence. It can
analyse various parameters and auto-adjust its processes to ensure
For customers, this means that their production lines can run
within specifications without operator intervention in the blowing
process. Even if the temperature varies during the day, the
Intelliblower produces bottles that meet specifications. It can
also identify a blowing station that is not performing optimally,
which is a clear boost to improving production quality.
Q. Which industry innovations do you expect to see in
the next five years?
I see packaging technology playing a larger role in consumer
health. For example, your fridge could analyse the turnover of
fruit and vegetables, if you drink more soda than water and so on,
and transmit this information to products you buy. Then the product
packaging could remind you about the shelf life of the product or
encourage you to balance your diet, for example with the message
"drink me now with an apple".
Q. Is there a certain type of person who is good at
working with innovation?
A. The short answer is no. For a good innovation team you need
different profiles. In my team, everyone is very different but we
are all hugely passionate about what we do. That's actually quite
typical for Sidel. We are all driven by this passion for creating
the best equipment and services for our customers. I believe that
everyone at Sidel works with innovation at some level. We're just
the catalysts for getting it to market.
EXPERIENCE THE FUTURE OF
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