Montreal start-up wants to fast-track your R&D
AxiPolymer Inc., a new product development firm that specializes in the polymer industry, is on a mission to help small and mid-sized plastics companies design and develop innovative products.
You don’t have to read Shakespeare to know that to be or not to be is one of the world’s oldest unanswered questions. A modern variation that troubles many small and mid-sized manufacturers is whether to outsource their research and development (R&D) or not.
And the stakes are almost as high. The end-goal of R&D is to innovate: to obtain new knowledge, applicable to your business’ needs, which can eventually result in new or improved products, processes, systems, or services that can increase your business’ sales and profits. Big corporations and manufacturers typically have the resources to conduct their own R&D in-house, but that’s not the case for many smaller companies, which don’t have the time, expertise, and manpower necessary to devote to creating new products – not to mention the money to cover a high front-end investment and therefore a longer period of negative cash flow.
Which is why Canada’s plastics processors should get a little excited about AxiPolymer Inc., a new product development firm that specializes in the polymer industry.
The Montreal-based company was founded last year by Dr. Ata Zad, a polymer science graduate of École Polytechnique de Montreal with over a decade of experience working for such companies as Teknor Apex and Solmax. AxiPolymer’s goal, Zad said, is simple: to fill a void in the plastics industry by providing product development services for companies to launch innovative products more efficiently.
And since, now more than ever, the secret of commercial success is staying ahead of the competition, it’s a void that desperately needs filling, Zad added. “More than almost any other manufacturing segment, plastics processors have to innovate to compete, and other businesses may have access to the same technology and compete with lower prices or stronger marketing,” he said. But while innovation is necessary, the R&D behind it can – as we’ve noted – be difficult for the small and mid-sized firms that constitute the bulk of the plastics manufacturing sector. “Many other industries have access to external firms that specialize in R&D to fulfill their needs, but plastics companies are almost left alone in this regard,” Zad said. Traditionally, these companies have had to use specialized nonprofit research institutions or universities – but these have drawbacks too, Zad continued. “Universities and research agencies are fine for developing long-term projects, but they don’t have the flexibility for short projects that need quick turnaround time,” he said. “Which means that when a market is growing very fast and competitors are rushing in, as is the case with today’s plastics industry, by the time they deliver a developed product, it’s too late for the manufacturer to be the first to market. And for industrial projects, it also helps to have an industrial, as opposed to an academic, perspective.”
EXPERIENCE PAYS OFF
Which is where AxiPolymer comes in. The company employs a network of experienced polymer engineers and industrial scientists to develop a technology before new entrants arrive and the “window of opportunity” closes. “I took my time to assemble the right team of university researchers and plastics industry veterans with more than 100 years of combined experience in the polymer industry,” Zad said. “Some of the researchers, in particular, felt wasted in the slow pace of the university setting, and are very eager to get working for private sector product development.”
AxiPolymer’s product development services run the gamut from A to Z. “We can define innovation strategy with a customer, explore their strengths and identify potential projects, conduct a feasibility study for a proposed new technology, develop custom additive compounds for a new product, execute the product development process from start to finish, and protect the customer at the end by developing intellectual property,” Zad said. “We also have access to the latest testing equipment and pilot plants in injection molding, extrusion, blow molding, and five-layer films.”
And AxiPolymer’s emphasis, Zad continued, is on speed. “My colleagues and I have designed a small, agile structure to provide a faster time to market for a technology or service,” he said. “Outsourcing R&D and product development is the best way for many Canadian plastics companies to innovate. They have the biggest market in the world at their doorstep; the challenge is to innovate beyond what American and other competing firms can do, and our goal is to help them.”
To modify Shakespeare, then, it’s a possible solution to an R&D conundrum that – for small and mid-sized manufacturers – can make the difference between being and not being in business.