Examining the Priorities of Research and Development Teams
Mersen EP examines how important research & development is and the methods that assist in this process.
This article is published by EEPower as part of an exclusive digital content partnership with Bodo’s Power Systems.
Are there international developments in the market requiring new types of electrical protection devices? What specific needs do customers have, and where do they need support? What discoveries have been made by scientific research, the practical implementation of which could open up new possibilities in electrical engineering? A high-tech supplier’s research and development department is responsible for keeping a finger on the pulse of markets, technology, society, and science and answering these questions.
Figure 1. In the test laboratory in Saint-Bonnet, long-term tests are carried out on a 3MVA resistance test bench, among other things. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF]
Research and Development Priorities
What is the main priority of a research and development team? Answering the needs of the customer. For new product development projects, we strive to understand the customer’s needs and market requirements instead of simply offering a solution that already exists. That is why I always urge my team to visit the customer and work with the sales or application team. The more we learn about the customer’s needs, the better the solution we can offer. For example, the TPMOV technology (serving surge protection device) was developed in response to a customer fuse requirement, and we created an overvoltage device.
Figure 2. Laminated busbars have now become one of Mersen’s flagship products. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF]
Mersen EP’s team works intensively to present new ideas for products or processes. This is achieved using the stage-gate model, in which the innovation/development process is subdivided into several stages. The results of each stage are then verified in a milestone analysis. First, we have the idea stage, where we only collect and present ideas. Then comes a pre-feasibility stage, followed by a feasibility development stage. This ensures only the most valuable ideas are retained.
Figure 3. Milestone product: Infini-Cell busbars connect battery cells in a space-saving manner and monitor temperature and voltage. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF]
There is another method for thinking outside the box: the so-called ballerina program. We set aside limited funds so that our young engineers can develop crazy ideas. This often results in ideas for new products, processes, or process steps.
Figure 4. Milestone product II: IsoMAXX cold plates ensure the power electronics operate in the best possible temperature range. Image used courtesy of Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF]
Cooperation with universities and research institutes is especially important to the R&D team. For example, Mersen is researching material fatigue in semiconductors and other components with the University of Aalborg in Denmark.
Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicles as Drivers
The megatrends of renewable energy and electric vehicles drive Mersen EP research and development. DC applications are becoming increasingly important. Solutions currently under development include but are not limited to, protection for direct current distribution, energy storage applications, electric vehicles, and charging stations.
How long does it take to develop a new product? It depends.
Some developments take four or five years, like EV projects, while others are ready to launch in only 12 to 18 months. More important than the duration of the development process is the customer’s satisfaction with the product. Our goal in research and development is to hear no more about the product when it is released to production because that means we have done a good job, i.e., there is no problem with quality, production, or performance.
To “hear no more” about product development in the long term requires product tests. Mersen conducts these tests in the company’s test lab in Saint Bonnet near Lyon, the Newburyport lab, and the Shanghai limited performance lab. Labs, also part of Mersen’s R&D departments, are where product developments – proprietary products from Mersen and third-party products – are pushed to their limits. This incorruptible testing also provides security for the R&D department. One cannot cheat physics, which means one cannot cheat on lab tests.
This article originally appeared in Bodo’s Power Systems [PDF] magazine.