Three questions for… Armand Ajdari

Armand Ajdari is Head of Research and Development at Saint-Gobain. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, he tells us how his teams are adapting, working together and managing to innovate, despite the restrictions, for the benefit of the Group... and the common good.

What impact has the COVID-19 crisis had on Saint-Gobain’s R&D?

I must firstly congratulate our teams, which have shown great responsiveness and admirable commitment and solidarity in a constantly changing situation.

The crisis has necessarily caused major disruption. R&D activity is currently reduced as a result. This is due to the significant restrictions on our ability to conduct measurements and experiments at our R&D centers, as well as at our industrial sites and with our industrial and academic partners. It is also linked to the slowdown of the entire ecosystem vital to the successful operation of an open R&D activity, which requires cooperation with other functions within our Group and interaction with our customers, our suppliers, academic players, etc.

In this context, our teams are doing their utmost to align locally to the priorities of our businesses, particularly the most active such as Life Sciences, and address them by drawing on our global network. Although some R&D centers are closed, others, like the one in Shanghai, are fully operational and their experimental capacities can therefore be called upon (for example to investigate new raw materials or components where there are shortages).

For employees working from home, this is a good time for a literature review of some scientific topics, as well as training and discussions. Online collaborative innovation platforms are essential in this respect.

Is anything specific being developed?

Many R&D teams are taking part in initiatives all over the world to find solutions to the health crisis. In France, for example, we are supporting the Group’s participation in the consortium led by Air Liquide, alongside PSA, Schneider Electric and Valeo, to manufacture 10,000 artificial respirators.

Given our presence on the construction market, we have also called on R&D teams to contribute to solutions in terms of building materials to be used in the construction of temporary medical structures, in coordination with players active in modular construction, such as emergency hospitals in Brazil, England, China, etc.

We have also allocated resources at some of our R&D centers to meet needs expressed locally around our sites, including 3DPrinting of components for masks and protective visors, development of cleaning solutions, components for respirators, etc.

Can any lessons be learned from this crisis already?

This crisis is clearly an impediment to R&D. But, paradoxically, it is also acting as a catalyst – an opportunity to look at certain subjects from a new perspective.

With the rapid response required from us, this COVID-19 crisis has encouraged the creation of new ecosystems and new connections. It is accelerating the development of certain sectors, including Prefabrication/Offsite manufacturing (which was already seeing a growth curve), but above all Care. Care involves looking after other people, solidarity, hygiene and health. That makes it a particularly topical subject at the moment! It is an area that we would all like to find in many products, markets and economic systems.

This period is also leading to an acceleration in our digitalization and innovation tools and process, as well as the empowerment and involvement of our teams. 

Above all, I would like to pay tribute to the strong solidarity between our employees around the world, which has enabled and nurtured our responsiveness and inventiveness in adapting production and our industrial facilities to the fight against the pandemic. This demonstrated ability to reinvent ourselves collectively, in line with Saint-Gobain's values, will strengthen our innovation culture and capability for the future!

Ultimately, this crisis will lead to changes, in terms of behavior and the needs of society. We will certainly continue to learn and adapt, together!

Crédit photo : © Jean Chiscano.