3M spends more on R&D

benturrin460While the rest of the industry is trimming its R&D budget, 3M has decided to splash out a bit more in the area.

3M’s Chief Technology Officer Ashish Khandpur has more to spend, about six percent of the company revenue by 2017 from about 5.5 percent in 2012. That equates to about $160 million in additional spending annually.

Khandpur is targeting the cash to create “disruptive platforms”, which sounds to us like he wants to build a Dalek, but is apparently less interesting.

So far, 3M, which posted $31.8 billion in revenue last year, says it has 30 such programmes in various stages of development, with $250 million in sales expected this year from those already commercialised.

One of the sorts of things he has been looking at is Crystal Silk, a new surface material that is smooth to the touch, yet also designed to be scratch- and stain-resistant. It is used for computer touchpads, a new market for 3M, and also could have applications in appliances and other areas.

Another idea is developing sensors that can be embedded in cable splices to monitor power lines, and Khandpur envisions respirators that can track the wearer’s vital signs or detect if the device is being worn incorrectly.

These are all nice ideas but we suspect a Dalek or a Cyberman would be a little more destructive.

Already, 3M invests more than double the average 2.3 percent spent last year by 190 industrial companies tracked by Strategy&. Of other large industrial companies, United Technologies reported spending 4.1 percent of revenue on R&D in 2014, while General Electric’s research budget amounted to 4.8 percent of its industrial revenue. For GE, that budget compares to 5.3 percent in 2013, and 5.1 percent in 2012.

3M is also expanding efforts to get outside ideas. The company has roughly 50 technical centers globally that are designed to expose customers to 3M’s technology. In March, 3M unveiled plans for a new centre in western China.

One avenue Khandpur is exploring is creating products with digital capabilities. He is hiring people with experience in electronics, software and mathematics to augment the company’s traditional strengths in materials sciences.