By Ray Bitzel
Global Development Director, Wheelabrator Group
The answer to the question is: in my experience, a handful of the best. But the important thing is not the number, but the mix of people. That’s a departure from how we used to do things in engineering.
Only a couple of years back, development of engineering products would be dominated by one way of thinking. A German “Mittelstand”-company would do things in a very specific way. A US business would take a different approach – and find a different solution to the same problem.
The reality is, there isn’t. We never know enough. When I asked ten different seasoned Wheelabrator experts exactly how they think our blast wheels work, I got ten different answers. None of them were wrong, but all of them admitted that there’s a lot more to discover about the blast process.
The exercise started off a programme of intense testing, imaging and experimenting and got us to a point where we probably know more about wheel blasting than anyone else in the world.
Yet that’s just the mechanics of it. Requirements keep changing too. A problem is never purely an engineering problem. Different markets have different customer preferences and established ways of doing things that affect how solutions are found.
That’s why our R&D now takes place in ad-hoc teams, made up of people from all over the world. You have to have different opinions in the group to challenge the status quo – there has to be a naysayer who questions every possible solution, and you need a mix of young and older peoplewho provide experience as well as an eagerness to experiment. All this can mean heated exchanges and lead to the strangest experiments, but it keeps us thinking, questioning and challenging.
It’s this fantastic mix of talented people that drives innovation at Wheelabrator. Our Test Centre in Schaffhausen, not too close to the hustle and bustle at our technology centre in Zürich, has become a creative hub where teams of people ranging in age from their mid-twenties to their early sixties can disagree freely, ask seemingly stupid questions and test the living daylight out of equipment.
With this blog we hope to take that spirit online: to share ideas with a wider audience, spark conversations and gain different perspectives. We hope you’ll enjoy reading our thoughts and opinions – and join in the discussion in the comments section.