3 Ways to Find ‘New Applications’

3 Ways to Find ‘New Applications’

By Erik Willet

By Ywonne Hu and Erik Willet.

As an academic scholar working on the frontier of my research field, I’m constantly thinking ahead to find the next breakthrough in my field. Extrapolating new findings into entire research topics keeps an academic research program moving forward. However, working with a corporate client for on a PreScouter project is a different kind of challenge.

When a client from industry addresses a collection of academics in a PreScouter project, and the client is in search of ‘new applications’ for an invention, a scholar’s first inclination is to look out into the distant future. It’s forward-thinking, the most exciting prospect, and what comes naturally to us. But clients are often looking to pull the mighty inertia of an existing product line into new territory, and when profit is the aim, the words ‘new applications’ can mean different things to parties on either side of the fence.

Starting from the practical horizon to the abstract beyond, here are a three interpretations of ‘new applications’ that us far-thinking scholars have been using to cast a problem into a frame compatible with for commercial applications. These frames have been helping ensure both the academics and the corporate clients walk away with the same expectations.

1. New Applications (in Safe Waters)

This is the most conservative approach to finding new places to use the client’s products. We seek out solutions to this level of inquiry such the highest level of technology readiness, but would require some dialing in to meet the needs of a familiar market. We develop recommendations when thinking about challenges in this frame by looking at existing products and proven success.

  • Example: One of the world’s prominent chemical suppliers has an adhesives division.

2. New Applications (on Foreign Shores)

Here is where we begin to tread into the waters of user innovation and start crossteching between entirely new markets. We’re often framing the problem so as to find a repurposed product will be competing with established, time-honored brands or fill some gap not yet solved in the new industry. Suggestions for new uses at this level are delivered alongside knowledge of the target industry’s strongest points, traditions (or superstitions), and shortcomings.

  • Example: The client with glue expertise wants to take a shot at developing an underwater adhesive for repairing boat hulls.

3. (Brave) New Applications

An academic, given free-reign to generate ideas, might only start here and work their way out. These are new uses of a product that would flip the original intentions of the client upside-down. If the idea took off then it could seed its own division within a company.

  • Example: A writing utensil company wants to produce supported graphene surfaces from the graphite shavings from manufacturing pencils.
  • Example: The adhesives group has expressed interest into adapting their silicone adhesive into liquid stitches for operating rooms.

What is your interpretation of “new applications” and how do you approach them?  Sound off in the comments below!

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