Michael Kuhn was responsible for the implementation of new conveyor modules at the Global Center of Excellence „Conveyors & Sorters" at Interroll. He is now Managing Director of Interroll Kronau GmbH, which manufactures the Interroll Belt Curve for the EMEA market.

Michael Kuhn from the Global Center of Excellence at Interroll talks about innovating products and processes – and on flexible foresight.

Mr. Kuhn, what does innovation really mean for you? Is every new idea the same as innovation?

I think that we need to distinguish between evolution and revolution. These terms are often confused with innovation. Evolution is the development of part of what already exists, the ongoing, continued structural improvements. One takes a brief look back at the development up until now and reviews what the state of the art is on the market and then moves it forward another small step. That is progress, not innovation. Innovation, in the meaning of the word, is creating something that does not yet exist, something others do not have. It has to do with the "wow" effect, or the "aha" moment— that is innovation. And it is not easy with our mature state of technology, but within the holistic interplay of components, there are actually still possibilities. And we have achieved it. For our customers, it is a "wow" effect that everything fits together, that everything plays together, that they do not have to modify anything. We have set a completely new goal for the entire process. Basically a new approach complete with new product development, process development, manufacturing, assembly, shipping and distribution process—that is innovation.

So, the whole is more than the sum of the individual parts?

Exactly. As with many of our competitors, we and our products have grown over time—definitely evolutionary. But when everything functions in an integrated, new, continuous process, then you need to push the "reset all" button. Everything reset to zero—that is what we have done.

So, the actual innovation in this strategic approach, for example regarding the modular conveyor platform. In other words, the entire, holistic approach is basically the innovation?

Absolutely. And then to achieve a holistic result from that. That requires innovative developments even at the product level as well, naturally. For instance, sorting machines that can be placed more rapidly and easily, as well as shifted more flexibly in the facility. When customers change their business processes, scale and flexibility are the key words. Innovation is needed for that, too, but the most innovative thing we have done, I think, is reconceptualising the whole process.

Such systems should naturally be more permanent once installed. Resetting and changing is thus important. At the same time, the question is, how important are individual product innovations overall for Interroll as a manufacturer of investment objects, in the best meaning of the word?

Interroll, of course, does much more than just develop. But even here, it is important to take the next steps, and, I think the market there will see a few exciting things from Interroll over the next few years. Energy efficiency, streamlined data flow, flexible modification—these are topics where the biggest innovations can be expected in the near future. These processes will rely on Internet-based protocols in the next generation. Then, intelligent components like scanners, computers and data processing systems as well as RFID lasers or camera systems can share in the process. In fact, the camera systems are becoming more and more important in our distribution operations. 

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