Every now and then a sole genius sets the world on fire. But I would argue that collaborative relationships are the real lifeblood of innovation.

Hands up if you think two heads are better than one

We’ve all met them. The people in the office, the workshop or the lab who guard their secrets. They don’t like sharing their know-how and are very suspicious of anything ‘not invented here’. Fair enough, history provides some impressive examples of the lone genius – people who pretty much single-handedly made a ground-breaking discovery or wowed the world with a fantastic invention.

But not everyone’s a genius. And in my personal experience, it’s shared expertise that usually leads to the best ideas. Put some clever, inquisitive and enthusiastic people in a room together, throw out a challenge and watch them go! They’ll spark off each other and come up with some off-the-wall ideas. But there will probably also be some real nuggets in there too.

Together we make the difference

Fortunately for me, I work in a company where our philosophy is: ‘Together we make the difference’. It’s an approach that’s perfect for open innovation.

Collaboration is not new to us at Tata Steel. We’ve got some great examples of working with partners and even competitors to develop new technologies.

  • In the collaborative HIsarna project we used a pilot ironmaking plant at IJmuiden in the Netherlands to reduce carbon emissions from integrated steelmaking by 20%.
  • The Welsh Government is one of our partners in the SBEC and SPECIFIC centres at our site in north Wales. Here we’re aiming to transform the ‘building envelope’ into an energy generation, storage and release system.
  • Tata Steel is a major partner in The Proving Factory based in Coventry and Rotherham. We’re identifying new, low-carbon technologies developed by small enterprises in the automotive sector and helping them to further develop and prove their technologies for uptake by large manufacturers.

Venturing into the unknown

Although we’ve always collaborated with partners in industry and academia, we’ve never gone out to the world at large and said ‘these are the areas where we want to work together’. That’s what makes this open innovation portal so exciting.

I’ve got no doubt that collaboration will help us tackle the challenges we’ve highlighted on this site. But what I’m looking forward to most is finding opportunities that we had no idea existed!

About Pete Longdon

Pete Longdon has a PhD in Chemistry and MSc in Ferrous Metallurgy. He joined the steel industry as a researcher in 1990. He’s since led several R&D teams and managed a number of European collaborative projects for Tata Steel. Since 2010 Pete has been tasked with seeking out new technologies and encouraging collaboration.