The Innovation Machine @Groupe SEB

By Kate
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When you look at the evolution of everyday household goods, you see the power of innovation and its societal impact.  Take the clothes iron, for example.

One hundred years ago, the clothes iron was a heavy metal object that you’d have to heat on the fire, and then use your muscle power to push it around hard enough to flatten your clothing wrinkles.  I’m sweating just thinking about it!

Even today in some countries, clothes irons are powered by coal and ironing services are offered on roadside stands.

Yet we’ve made enough progress elsewhere that now companies are designing clothes irons for men, the type of men that like power tools.  I just read the other day about a new black, “fun-to-use” iron specifically for you guys!  (BTW, women like black too, but oh well.  Go for it!)

Copyright Photographe : Philippe SCHULLER.

Copyright Photograph : Philippe SCHULLER.

Now it just so happens that Jean-Christophe Simon, the director of innovation for Groupe SEB, the world leader in small household equipment, will speak at Tuesday’s National Innovation Directors Meetings

And since we’re all consumers of these products, I thought it would be interesting to see what SEB has to say about the group’s ‘innovation machine’ and the future of household equipment innovations.

Here you go:

1. Your Group includes 20 brands, and of those six are worldwide. They represent a lot of household products! Groupe SEB today sells how many different products?

JCS: With our portfolio of diversified and complementary brands, Groupe SEB is present in both the small electrical appliance sector and cookware.  The development of global markets means a certain degree of standardization of offers but also multiplicity of local usage makes it vital to adapt and respond to specific local needs.

The Group sells approximately 200 million products per year in approximalty 150 countries.

2. You must have a serious ‘innovation machine’ to bring so many products to market. What’s your secret?

JCS: Innovation is part of the Groupe SEB DNA for more than 150 years and our history is paved by a succession of innovative products (1917 electric iron, 1953 pressure cooker seb, 1967 electric odour free deep fryer…). It is not by chance that one of our five group values, shared by all of our 20,500 employees, is “Passion for Innovation”.

Innovation at Groupe SEB is very diverse: it can be functional, technological, marketing; it can also come from partnership agreements.
Innovation is always guided by our brands and our different ranges offer genuine product benefits that are tangible for the consumer: breakthrough innovation, ease of use, high-tech performance, timesaving, ergonomics, elegant design, handy storage…

Groupe SEB has R&D centers either dedicated to our business units, to specific product ranges or to key technologies for the group. We have approximalty 750 people dedicated to R&D.  These people work in close cooperation with marketing teams according to various development models in order to handle all types of products and market segments appropriatly.

We register around 100-150 patents and launch 200 new products per year.
In 2009, we invested 60 M€ in R&D.

3. Do you use 3D software and collaborative research platforms to invent your products? If so, how does this impact your innovation cycle? If not, why?

JCS: No software and collaborative research platform at present, but we are benchmarking some systems. Of course we are using PLM software for product engineering.

4. What’s the long-term future of household products, and what needs to happen to get us there? Can you give a specific product example?

JCS: The small domestic appliance market in mature countries is spurred by a new demand for higher-status products as well as the increasing volume of cheaply mass-produced products coming from Asia. Consumers are ready to pay for innovation only if it provides a clear benefit to them (i.e. Actifry, Silence Force). In these mature markets, new consumption trends also create opportunities for new product categories (i.e. seniors, environmental products).

The emerging markets represent an enormous potential of growth with new customers willing to fit out with high performance products. These markets, where the local actors are more and more competitive, require not only standardized products but also very specific ones (wok, soya bean milk maker, chapati grill, arepas makers…).

5. Where does the ‘innovation industry’ need to innovate?

JCS: The mid-range and top-range segments use innovation and expertise to re-dynamize markets with products that stand out from cheaply mass-produced and increasingly commonplace articles.

This is clearly the stance adopted by Groupe SEB which, as a leader in its sector, strives not only to enhance the quality of the present offer, but also to develop the potential of the small household equipment market.

Merci beaucoup Jean-Christophe!

I hope that you enjoyed my interviews with the innovation directors from Groupe SEB, Areva and Aldebaran Robotics.  Next stop, the conference Tuesday!

Bon weekend,


3D for Fashion – Ready or Not, Here I Come!

By Tamara
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Draping fabric

Apples, peaches, pumpkin pie, who’s not ready holler I!

How many of you remember this favorite Schoolhouse Rock song?

It suddenly popped into my head when I was thinking about the use of 3D and the Fashion industry. There are a growing list of technologies available to our industry using 3D to support Brand sales, marketing, and product development. I can think of no better industry to apply the benefits of “See What You Mean.”

Fashion is all about visualization, aesthetic, emotion, and the business of art. The benefits are clear for sales and merchandising where early optimization of design ideas and a collection’s inspirational direction can drive revenue. Being able to visualize the product range helps merchants and buyers ensure a trend-right collection with the right breadth and depth in the assortment, long before expensive sampling has taken place.

Another area gaining market traction is the fitting process. The cost and added development time of multiple fitting sessions can be greatly reduced with virtual prototypes.

So why does the industry lag in adoption and commercial offerings?

A recent Forrester Research report said:

From the point of view of most business leaders, the utility of virtual worlds in business is not apparent.

Do you agree?

There are still a lot of impediments to mass adoption of these technologies in Fashion, but the biggest impediments I see are realism and readiness…..not value.

Realism in fashion is being able to accurately convey the end product, in all its attributes – color, texture, drape, feel, and shape. Is virtual reality ‘real’ enough? Does the technology convey the same experience?

A big part of the shopping experience is the emotion of it all. How does the product make you feel?

Although these hurdles may never be leapt in fashion there are tremendous possibilities today to inform the planning process, merchandising process, and the consumers brand experience with 3D.

Readiness is more about the human interaction and willingness to change. Change in tools, change in process, and change in participation.

It took a long time for 2D CAD to emerge in fashion and I suspect it may take some time for 3D to emerge as well. What is different this time however is the pace at which technology is changing and impacting our everyday lives.

We have more digital tools at our disposal than ever before. The next generation of merchants, designers, and developers are going to not only expect these tools but frankly will demand them.

Their expectations will be for a fully immersive and interactive experience. This is what they will have grown up on and they will demand the same, if not more, of their work tools as they do of their personal and recreational tools.

As I said in the beginning, ready or not, here I come!

Are you ready?



Tamara Saucier works in Consumer Goods solutions for Dassault Systèmes.

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