The art and science of innovation
Paint system specialist company Geico Takisha regularly invites its customers to help it continue to reduce the impact of the paint shop on the environment and build costs by taking them on a day-long “Experiment Day” journey.
Only one customer group is hosted at a time to ensure that the Geico Takisha team can focus its entire attention on the challenges and opportunities identified by the customer. “The journey is not random. We show them the rational part of our brain, the offices with our engineers, the Campus Pippo Neri where we train our employees, and then the emotional one (Laura's Garden of Thoughts). The symbiosis and balance between these two aspects of our lives lead to excellence, which is Pardis Innovation Centre,” says Dr Daryush Arabnia, COO of Geico Taikisha Group.
Pardis is the ancient Persian word for an enclosed garden and is the root of the word paradise. Most of the top OEMs in the world have attended at least one Experiment Day where they are shown the technological solutions and prototypes the Geico team is working on..
Customers can also run tests on their own body shells in the pilot facilities in order to select the solution that best fits their plant.
Automotive Industries (AI) asked Dr D. Arabnia what makes “Experiment Days” more than a marketing exercise.
- Arabnia: Although the format is very similar for each customer, the truth is that we prepare intensely before the group arrives in order to understand their needs in depth. We start by showing them our new technology in general, and the focus specifically on their needs. At that point we have a dedicated meeting room called the “think tank” inside the Pardis center. This is where we have technical discussions. We assess the needs, and identify what can be done with the existing technology, and what cannot be done at this time. After the experiment day we set up appointments with the participants to show them the technological solutions we have developed to meet the needs identified during the sessions.
AI: Are there different types of experiment day?
- Arabnia: Yes, for example we will host a general management experiment day at the completion of a project in order to analyze what went right and what went wrong. The way we approach project management comes from lessons learned doing experiments days with our customers. Successful implementation is not only dependent on technology, but also management. Then there are the annual Experiment Days, where we provide feedback to our customers on how we have progressed on the meeting the objectives and goals set the previous year. In this way every year builds on the one before.
AI: Are there examples of technical breakthroughs that have resulted from the Experiment Days?
- Arabnia: They stimulate a process rather than individual technical breakthroughs. We do a lot of value engineering during the Experiment Days. An example is our J-Jump painting system. During an Experiment Day with a major OEM they told us that the system would be even better if it could provide immersion through rotation. A year later we showed the OEM that we had developed the technology. That is the reason we can offer both standard and rotation immersion on our J-Jump system. Another example is the rotating conveyor system that allows bodies to be dipped and transported on the PT/ED line. The feedback from a customer was that it could be difficult to manage. We then developed a system that is much simpler and does exactly what the customer wants. It is extremely easy to maintain and clean, and has fewer components.
AI: Who attends the Experiment Days?
- Arabnia: It depends on the nature of the particular Experiment Day. There are always technical people, but depending on the focus we could have top-level managers from manufacturing, engineering, purchasing and the like.
AI: Please tell us a bit about the J-Next group.
- Arabnia: We started with J-Next in 2011 when we noticed that the company did not have enough young people. One of the main challenges facing our industry is succession – we need to groom a new generation. Now every year we hire five new fresh graduates. They start with a six-month contract during which we can judge whether they have the right aptitude and passion the job. Those that are selected sign a one year contract. For the next year we send them all around the world to site see if they are able to stay far away from home and work under very difficult circumstances. If they then succeed, we offer them permanent contract.
AI: Do you learn from the new generation?
- Arabnia: The Gen X recruits have come up with a number of ideas we would not have thought of. J-Next is for anyone less than 30 years old – in Geico years. That is their age plus the number of years they have been with the company. We do this because we want to tap into the ideas of young people whose minds are not polluted by too much experience in our field.
They meet for a day every week to share new ideas and projects and develop the ideas. Then, every six weeks we have two strategic meetings – a technological innovation meeting, and a cultural innovation meeting. Both take full day. The first hour or two is completely dedicated to our Gen X recruits, who present their ideas to the management of the company. During that same meeting we decide on which projects to go ahead with, which to place on standby, and which are not feasible at present. Gen X team members head up the projects we decide to go ahead with.
In this way Gen X bring new technology into company, and we keep them motivated. It can be described as “reverse mentoring” – where we have youngsters working with senior members in the company. The young graduates bring fresh ideas, and an understanding of the latest technology and thinking which they were exposed to at university. It is a win-win.
AI: What is the Ideas Workshop?
- Arabnia: We have a system that allows anyone in company to share their ideas. Every suggestion is analyzed and the head of the department provides feedback to the person who shared the idea. They are told whether we are going to implement their idea or not – and why. And every year at our Christmas party we present a prize to the employee with the best idea.
AI: No interview can be complete without asking you what progress is being made to meeting the objective of Energy Independence Day on 16 June 2020.
- Arabnia: We have entered challenging territory. In the beginning even tapping 100 kWh per body was easy. Now every single step requires lot of effort. For the past year we have been focusing on our processes to see how we can make them more efficient. We are asking ourselves what we do every step of the process. In addition we are hosting workshops with academics and other entities to tap into their know-how, even where it is not paintshop-related. There may be technologies and systems we can apply in order to bring the power usage down to 270 kWh per body. At present we are on 320 kWh. We are confident that we will develop a self-sufficient paintshop which can be run on renewable energy – and which has zero emissions