How DuPont’s Innovation Centers Bring It Closer to Customers

By Patricia Riedman Yeager |  August 15, 2014

Since 2010, the $36 billion science-driven manufacturer DuPont has opened a dozen DuPont Innovation Centers around the world, with a 13th set to open by year-end. What are they up to? We spoke with Karin Weining, Global Innovation Excellence Leader, to dig in.

The centers invite customers and strategic partners to join DuPont in trying to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems concerning food, safety, and sustainability. They also allow DuPont, headquartered in Delaware, to display its technological advances in industries like agriculture, automotive, energy, and electronics.

In the first two years, the centers brought in a total $60 million in revenue, says Weining, who oversees the international network. “This year we’ve already matched what we brought in last year,” Weining adds.

Not to be Confused with R&D

While they’re sometimes located near a DuPont R&D center, the Innovation Centers are more importantly situated near key industry sectors and clients, Weining says. For instance, the centers located in India, Japan, South Korea and Troy, Mich., make up its automotive network. The Taiwan center focuses on electronics and handheld devices. The center in Johnston, Iowa, pictured at right, specializes in agriculture.

Some centers focus on multiple industries, such as Thailand’s center, which explores food and agriculture, energy, automotive, and construction. There are also centers in Turkey, Russia, Brazil, Switzerland, and Mexico. Another key difference, Weining says, is that DuPont works in open collaboration with its clients, offering its expertise on how to apply existing high-performance materials, or to develop new ones, to make a product better. New business leads get funneled through the centers, which are then routed to DuPont’s existing business units, she says.

A Lighter, Stronger Laptop

One such innovation to come through the center in Taiwan is Lenovo’s IdeaPad U550. DuPont was challenged with helping Lenovo come up with a light-weight, durable, and more cost-effective cover for its laptop. “One of the areas we’ve been working on is less deflection so it performs better,” Weining says, explaining, “if you squeeze it, it doesn’t harm the electronics components inside, like the display.”

DuPont created a grade of its trademark Zytel HTN, a synthetic high-performance nylon, which is flame-retardant, and especially well-suited for electronics and handheld devices because it can withstand high-temperatures during circuit assembly. Using the Zytel material also enabled Lenovo to reduce the IdeaPad’s cover wall thickness 25 percent and adopt a less-expensive parts production process.

Plastic Car Parts

Working out of its center outside Detroit, DuPont recently helped Ford Motor Co. create a lighter engine, critical in improving gas mileage. A team from Ford, its part supplier Illinois Tool Works, Inc., and DuPont created a new part for the Ford 3.5L and 3.7L engine manifold using a cross-over coolant component made of Zytel HTN PPA, another nylon resin, instead of brazed metal. (See the image at left.) The cross-over component is a hollow port that allows the coolant to bypass the manifold, the part of the engine that feeds fuel and air to the cylinders.

Substituting Zytel HTN PPA for metal not only reduces the car’s weight by a pound, Weining says, it enables greater design flexibility using plastics and makes the manufacturing process easier. The part is currently being used in Ford Taurus, Flex, and Explorer models, and was named a 2013 finalist by the Society of Plastics Engineers for the “Most Innovative Use of Plastics” honor.

There are dozens of other projects in the pipeline at the centers around the world. And while the centers are critical for enabling face-to-face client meetings, Weining says, through videoconferencing and other networking it can leverage the entire DuPont network: “We can bring the whole of DuPont R&D across the globe.”