Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics adapts to change as parent firm marks 350 years

Tom Kinisky spent many years in research and development before becoming a general manager at Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., so he was convinced that innovation was something that could be taught and learned.

That’s been a big part of the $55-billion parent firm based in Courbevoie, France, which just turned 350 years old. Performance Plastics is one of the faster growing divisions within the firm, the first product of which was mirrors for King Louis XIV of France.

Real innovation

“We talk about Bill Gates, Steve Jobs or Thomas Edison,” says Kinisky, now president and CEO of the firm. “But in reality, innovation is everyday people doing the job, thinking about things differently and bringing new light and connections to old problems to find solutions.”

The company began teaching employees how to be innovative.

“We call it enterprise innovation; everybody embraces it whether they are in accounting, sales and marketing, R&D or operations,” Kinisky says. “We train people to think about their job. It has helped us in many ways: the speed at which we get products from R&D all the way through to customers and how we approach customers.”

In the medical products business, for example, customers would like to give input to the design to make sure it fits into their system. They want to know how much, how soon and so forth.

“It used to take 10 days in our system,” Kinisky says. “Today, it takes just hours. We have an interactive design tool. Customers can be at their location, we are both looking at the same design, and we can make changes on the fly until everybody agrees on the design.”

Rapid prototyping also helps to quickly supply a 3-D prototype to the customer.

“We totally changed the speed at which we work. That is critical because the next frontier of innovation for manufacturers is speed. The world is changing quickly, and you need to speed up to react to that,” he says.

On the frontier

That type of skill is attracting companies like Argos Therapeutics Inc. to work with Performance Plastics on its disposable devices for use in cancer research and treatment.

“Argos has a proprietary process that picks biological components out of a patient’s cells and creates a white blood cell that triggers an immune response specific for their fight against their specific cancer or infectious disease,” Kinisky says. “Performance Plastics is designing materials required in their manufacturing process.”

The process, now in the final phase of trials, could eventually replace chemotherapy, Kinisky says.

“That is absolutely fascinating. People are thrilled in the company to be working on it. There is nothing like a cause like that to get a lot of people motivated,” he says. “We are just doing what Saint-Gobain has done for 350 years. It’s all about innovation, adapting to change and having corporate values and culture that support innovation.”

How to reach: Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., (216) 245-0529 or www.plastics.saint-gobain.com .