SILICON VALLEY VISIT GIVES SECO A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE
A recent project that sent three Seco engineers into the uncharted territory of Silicon Valley has led to an award-winning breakthrough in the area of sensorenabled platforms for the cutting tool industry, as well as a much greater insight into how start-ups work and develop their products and services.
Launched in April 2019, the first result of the Seco project is Idem, which uses RFID (Radio-frequency identification) technology to identify tagged assets and a state-of-the-art pen reader to identify products and perform various actions on different tools. Customers can use Idem to connect their products to a database of tools and retrieve all product data and cutting information at the touch of a button.
As a new way to try to approach the traditional cutting tool market, Seco R&D sent three project managers to San Francisco in the spring of 2017. With somewhat loose instructions like: “establish an innovation network”, “learn how to operate in an open innovation environment”, “explore new ways to drive innovation”, and “come home with some real world prototypes”, Björn Gustafsson, Frédéric Barth, and Quentin Hardoin were set up with a blank canvas and a budget for a six-month period. “We wanted to understand how a small Californian valley south of San Francisco has become the center for digital and service innovation that is driving the world, to understand the philosophy and see what it could do for Seco,” Quentin says.
Usually tasked with finding solutions to well-defined problems, the engineers were given an unprecedented amount of freedom when they arrived on America’s West Coast in April 2017. “On Monday morning when we started, we had a room with a big table, three chairs and Wi-Fi, nothing else. We had to start by making contact with local companies that we found interesting and who were operating in areas that might potentially benefit our business,” Quentin explains.
However, they weren’t entirely on their own. “We received help in creating our first contacts from Jim Myrick and Martin Fridh from a company called Serious Fun, a Swedish-American company who helped us a lot to make things possible in the beginning,” Quentin says. “In Europe everybody has heard of Seco and Sandvik, but in Silicon Valley it is different. Most people would not have heard of us, so we were kind of like a start-up ourselves - we had a budget from Seco and the freedom to investigate and explore.”
Chosen for their openness, curiosity and ability to work independently, the three engineers set about finding projects and ideas that they could get their teeth into, but they had one lead that they were keen to investigate. “We wanted to see if it was possible to put sensors on tools, and if so, what the effect would be on their price and what data could be collected,” Quentin explains. “This led to a cascade of questions that we had to analyze and get some quick answers to.”
Björn, Frédéric and Quentin had their eyes quickly opened by the start-up culture of Silicon Valley. “Failing is not seen as a problem – but if you fail, you have to fail fast,” says Quentin. “Sometimes in Seco we take a long time developing something before analyzing that the solution is in line with customer or market expectations. In San Francisco we had to work quickly through the options, researching and testing different solutions. This agile way of working was an eye-opener.”
Quickly discarding what didn’t work and concentrating on what did led to new challenges being identified as they tried to map a path to a product that could be taken to the marketplace. “The hours were long and it was an extremely intensive working period. The work became a passion rather than a job,” Björn says.
In March 2019, the team’s work on Idem won a Red Dot Design Award for the Idem reader, a sign that the project is already bearing fruit. “By talking to different companies in areas that we are not normally associated with, we created new networks that we want to maintain. When we got back we were able to show our colleagues this agile way of working. Today this method is being tested in some projects in R&D at Fagersta,” Björn says. “The fact that we were able to come back with some viable products and prototypes and share the knowledge that we gained will benefit Seco and Seco Consultancy for years to come.”
For more information on Idem, visit www.idemtools.com.