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Innovating Outside the Box: The Team Behind One of TIME's Best Inventions

Thursday, November 21, 2019 2:49 pm CST

How does someone package and ship something without any boxes, filler or tape? It seems impossible, but thanks to a team of 3Mers, that crazy idea has become a reality. It’s called the Scotch™ Flex & Seal Shipping Roll, and it was recently named to TIME’s Best Inventions list.

The Scotch™ Flex & Seal team, including Jennifer Higgins, marketing manager; Mitch Johnson, senior process development specialist; Caleb Brian, new product claims specialist; and Mary Brown, senior product development specialist, among many others, knew that with the growth of ecommerce, the number of items being shipped was rising. They became passionate about finding a way to reimagine the cardboard box, something that hadn’t been done since the 1800s when it was invented.

The new Scotch™ Flex & Seal Shipping Roll cuts down on shipping waste, shipping space and packaging time when compared to cardboard boxes – up to 50% in each case. No boxes, filler or tape are needed. You simply cut the Scotch™ Flex & Seal Shipping Roll to size, fold over and press to securely seal.

Higgins, who started her career in finance before moving into marketing, never imagined she would one day be working with teams to launch consumer products, and points to collaboration as the foundation of this team’s success. “We’ve been very collaborative from the beginning.  We approached this commercialization process by doing whatever needed to be done to advance the product and take on aspects of the project regardless of function when possible.   We focused on listening to our consumers and generating solutions to solve their problems. Good ideas can come from anyone … be it our PhDs, admin. assistants, designers, interns, sales reps., consumers or retail partners,” she says.

Brian, whose career has shifted from creating base materials in chemical manufacturing to creating compelling claims about new-to-the-market products, said his favorite part of working at 3M was the collaborative piece that was so essential to this project. “There are some days when I am talking a lot with marketing and communications, but there are other days that I’m only talking to employees in technical areas in my division, or in other divisions working on completely different problems and projects. I go home every day likely having learned something new and am excited about my work here,” he explains.

But for how collaborative the team was, the task at hand still brought many challenges, according to Brown, one of the technical leaders and project managers on the team. “The project had lots of visibility and support from leadership all the way up to the CEO, which meant high expectations and aggressive timelines. But by capitalizing on the expertise here, we were able to invent the adhesive technology and scale up to production in under a year.”

Johnson, who spends his days experimenting with materials and manufacturing technologies, found his greatest challenge to be a little bit more technical than high expectations and deadlines. He had to think about the environment encountered during shipping and design the components of Scotch™ Flex and Seal to perform under extreme conditions while still being easy for the consumer to use. But overcoming that challenge led to some great career advice: “Stay flexible in your thinking, especially when solving a problem or developing an idea. Innovation happens outside of the box.”

For more information on the Scotch™ Flex & Seal Shipping Roll, check out the TIME’s Best Inventions list.

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