Many companies aspire to create the next “big thing.” Tobias Ross, 3M Advanced Materials Division (AdMD) business development manager, actually helps them do it. He leads a team focused on finding new automotive application solutions with 3M™ Glass Bubbles. Side by side with customers, 3M takes the simple glass bubbles product and creates extraordinary results.
“Glass bubbles by themselves aren’t anything special. You can’t do anything with them unless we collaborate with our customers to make them useful,” Tobias said. “That’s what makes the glass bubbles fantastic. At the end of the day, we’re not selling a product, we’re selling an idea.”
Ongoing, iterative collaboration is the recipe for success
Tobias collaborates every step of the way with his OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) customers to complete their innovative projects. Tobias and the customer start the process with a joint brainstorming session, which allows the team to share data and their vast divisional experiences.
The team and their customer will discuss unique 3M glass bubble properties they can leverage. Once they land on a strong idea, the process moves to development. During development, 3M teams work with the manufacturer to test and develop the idea further.
“Once our customers start playing around with the bubbles and exploring their abilities, they love them and are compelled to work with us to find a solution to address their biggest challenges,” Tobias said. “I always explain glass bubbles with this metaphor – customers want to make a cake with a different sweetener than sugar, which would be glass bubbles. The challenge is, they want it to taste no different than sugar.”
“If what we try ‘tastes’ wrong, we work with them through trial and error to determine what to change. It’s incredibly rewarding when we make the perfect cake with those glass bubbles. It’s amazing to be able to work so closely with our customers to get to a final product,” Tobias said.
Abstract ideas lead to new applications
The 3M glass bubbles team is a tight-knit group, spanning several continents. To unlock the power of the glass bubbles, the team constantly shares ideas. For example, they will ask themselves how a lightweight body filter solution in Asia can be translated and applied to a different country, a unique product or a new customer.
The projects the team works on often span several years, making strong customer relationships vital to success. The team leverages 3M glass bubbles to help their customers increase productivity, meet new design challenges and enhance product performance. But more importantly, they are helping them turn “what’s possible” into “what’s next.”
“Unique, market-changing ideas have never been more important than they are now,” Tobias said. “And we aren’t stopping anytime soon. Our customers inspire us every day to keep growing and building and changing the world, one glass bubble at a time.”