3M Forward: Delivering science-based innovations at scale to address global challenges
May 22, 2023

3M Forward is a program that highlights how materials science-based innovation at scale can help society progress against three unstoppable forces shaping our planet—climate change and resource scarcity, shifting demographics and social change and the convergence of the physical and digital world—and how solutions from 3M scientists, engineers and experts are building a brighter future.  

“The global reach of our business combined with our science-first approach to developing scalable solutions uniquely positions us to tackle the world’s biggest and most pressing challenges,” said Mark Copman, 3M senior vice president, new growth ventures. 

This is supported by insights from the 2023 3M State of Science Index, which shows 85% of people globally see the connection between science and the role it plays in improving their life, and 88% believe that in the future, we will be more dependent on scientific knowledge than ever before. 

“People around the world recognize the relevance of science in their lives and to their communities, and they look for it to be a part of the solutions driving change,” said Dr. Jayshree Seth, corporate scientist and chief science advocate at 3M. “We must work together to overcome these global challenges and build a brighter tomorrow for all.”  

Climate change and resource scarcity  

Increasing rates of global development and decreasing levels of natural resources have contributed to negatively impacting the environment and accelerating global climate change. These impacts are widespread, and the risks extend beyond any one continent, industry or species—they present a global concern. According to the 2023 3M State of Science Index, 93% of people globally are concerned about the consequences of climate change, and 9 out of 10 believe science can help minimize the effects of climate change.  

To address these challenges, 3M is harnessing science-based innovations at scale to create more sustainable homes, businesses and communities.  One way 3M is accelerating the delivery of new climate solutions to contribute to a low carbon economy is through collaborations, reflected in the company’s recent partnership announcement with Svante. 3M and Svante will collaborate to develop Direct Air Capture (DAC) products for sale to the Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) industry.  The company is also focused on alternative energy solutions—3M’s Advanced Materials Division is developing an innovative 3M™ Nanostructured Supported Iridium Catalyst Powder that could make the production of green hydrogen more cost-effective, efficient and obtainable—potentially enabling a more sustainable fuel solution for manufacturing and industries where electrification is difficult, such as long-haul trucking or steelmaking. 

"Innovations that deliver scalable impact across industries have never been more important,” said Gayle Schueller, senior vice president and chief sustainability officer at 3M. “At 3M, we are committed to making a positive impact through our operations, products and partnerships to accelerate science-based solutions in the critical areas of decarbonization, energy, transportation and circular economy.”  

Shifting demographics and social change 

Greater global connectivity means shifts to education, sustainability, equity and technology, which can have impacts far beyond their geographic origin. These shared social changes offer personal and professional opportunities but also present challenges. For example, urbanization rates continue to grow as the world redefines the future of work and consumerism with technology, but a diminishing population in more rural areas can create labor shortages and impact supply chains.   

3M understands how people’s needs are changing, in and out of the workplace, and creates solutions to help anticipate and accommodate those needs. In health care facilities, the company’s Clinician Solutions Portfolio is reducing the administrative burden on providers so they can better focus on their patients and create better health outcomes. To address labor challenges within manufacturing while improving productivity and quality, 3M is introducing automated technologies like the 3M™ Finesse-it™ Robotic Paint Repair System, which works with third-party vision systems to automatically identify and repair common paint defects on automotive production lines. And to empower new ways of working, 3M recently launched The Post-it® App for Microsoft Teams. The app provides the technology to support hybrid teams, allowing workers to share hand-written notes with their colleagues and take action on projects, no matter where they live or work, providing more freedom and flexibility. 

“3M is working to make each of these evolutions a force for good. Our technology platforms and institutional expertise allow us to move forward through disruption," said Dr. Seth. “We can see around the corners of intersecting trends to understand and respond with science-based innovations at scale in ways no one else can or does.” 

Convergence of the physical and digital world  

The world we live in today is a fast-evolving ecosystem comprised of software, sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and human-machine interfaces that power industry, commerce, and our daily lives. Societal shifts, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, make us not only more engaged with these interfaces, but also more dependent on them. Shaping this new reality and living in it requires a combination of technical mastery, courage and understanding—which most are eager to accept. 85% of people believe companies should embrace digital transformation, and 75% agree AI is an exciting technology that impacts their everyday life (2023 3M State of Science Index).  

“As the dividing line between physical and digital blur, innovations and technological advancements continue to revolutionize the way we interact, work, live and entertain,” said John Banovetz, 3M executive vice president, chief technology officer and environmental responsibility. “3M is addressing these changes by developing materials and process solutions—digital and physical—that serve the evolving needs of the consumer and our customers.” 

Advances in connectivity, sensor and robotic technologies enable new opportunities for growth and efficiency in urban infrastructure, manufacturing and supply chains; similarly, digital augmentation of the human experience drives health, wellness, ability and experiences through personalized technologies. 

  • 3M's expertise in optical materials technology made it an industry leader in successfully demonstrating the viability of pancake optics in VR headsets. Pancake optics, enabled by 3M's patented reflective polarizer technology, reduce the size of VR headsets and significantly improve image resolution. 
  • Advancements such as 3M™ VHB™ Extrudable Tape blend robotics with adhesive science to help reduce waste and improve manufacturing process efficiency.
  • 3M’s Abrasives Systems Division in collaboration with robot suppliers and third-party robotic solution builders use automation to deploy the solution. Abrasive products like the 3M™ Trizact™ Finesse-it™ Discs anchor the technology by removing defects with ease. 
  • Filtrete™ Smart HVAC Air Filter helps trap and capture allergens and other microscopic particles, like bacteria and viruses, from the air in your home. It tracks the life of your filter based on airflow and usage—not just time. 

3M Forward and science-based innovations at scale  

As the transformative forces of climate change and resource scarcity, shifting demographics and social change and convergence of the physical and digital world continue to shape the world around us, 3M is committed to leveraging its full capabilities to innovate meaningful solutions that help us adapt and make more informed decisions to reimagine the future. 

To learn more about how 3M solutions are improving lives around the world, and the areas 3M is focused on innovating next, visit 3M.com/Forward.   

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