3M: Innovative Technology For A Changing World


3M, formerly known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, have their motto as "Innovative technology for a changing world" and without any doubt, they stick to it! With over 84,000 employees, they produce more than 55,000 products- a jaw dropping diversity which includes adhesives, abrasives, laminates, passive fire protection, dental products, electronic materials, medical products, car care products, electronic circuits and optical films.

The founder’s original plan was to sell the mineral corundum to manufacturers in the East for making grinding wheels which was met by repeated failures and huge losses. However, they didn’t lose hope and kept innovating. The company"s late innovations include waterproof sandpaper and masking tape, as well as cellophane "Scotch Tape" and sound deadening materials for cars. 3M"s corporate image is built on its unique, innovative products, with up to 33% of sales each year from new products!

3M is a perfect example of constant struggle between efficiency and innovation, between discipline and invention.

Today, 3M has operations in more than 60 countries – 29 international companies with manufacturing operations and 35 companies with laboratories.

So how does an old company stay so inventive?

The company is solely committed to innovation. In 2005, 3M spent $1.24 billion on Research and Development which is an unusually high amount for an industrial manufacturer. Organic growth and new products are what drives the company.

Innovation is impossible without a broad base of technology. For instance, 3M claims to have leading know-how in 42 diverse technologies. That allows researchers to take an idea from one realm and apply it to another. 3M scientists have used a technology behind layered plastic lenses to make more durable abrasives, more reflective highway signs, and golf gloves that allow you to get a tighter grip without squeezing as hard.

3M tallies how much of its revenue comes from products introduced in the past four years to judge whether its R&D money is being spent wisely. Employees spend a lot of time with customers to understand what their needs are so they can go back to the labs to come up with valuable products.

Surely, innovation doesn’t happen by accident!

The corporate culture is actively maintained at 3M. In a nutshell, they believe: "Hire good people and let them do their job in their own ways. And tolerate mistakes." The happy and satisfied work force and researchers at 3M are what motivate 3M in its innovation and success.

Indeed, 3M is third in this year"s BusinessWeek ranking of the world"s most innovative companies, based on a global survey of top executives. It finished second in 2005.

- Madalsa Singh



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