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Why accelerating prototypes is key to successful innovation

By Knauf Insulation
April 21, 2023

Innovation is an important, complex, multi-faceted process. But Knauf Insulation’s new Group Director of Market Innovation wants to keep things simple.

“There are as many meanings of the word innovation as there are people,” says Steen Lindby, Knauf Insulation’s new Group Director of Market Innovation. “But after spending most of my working life in this field, my interpretation is straightforward. Innovation is turning knowledge into value. Simple as that. If we don’t create value for the customer or the company, it’s not innovation.”

Steen describes himself as a bridge builder between the market and technology, bringing people together from both sides. “It is this dynamic between these different worlds that I find very inspiring. The market usually needs innovations quickly, while the technological side often needs more time to feel safe and do things thoroughly. Bringing together these two worlds in great innovations is my passion.”

Steen Lindby

Steen took over his role at Knauf Insulation earlier this year after more than a decade in Mineral Wool research and development and nine years innovating new ‘smart window’ solutions.

Accelerating innovation with prototypes

“I love the spirit of my Knauf Insulation colleagues and their passion for entrepreneurship. What I see in terms of innovation across the company is exciting and creative. People are not afraid to try new things and pursue ideas. That is a fundamental starting point for innovation.”

Steen’s approach to innovation is to ensure that the timing from idea to prototype is as short as possible. “Ideas thrive on human energy and taking an innovation quickly from a thought to practical creation in the form of a prototype immediately invites customer feedback and testing as well as inspiring input and problem solving,” he says.

“Creativity is not linear A to Z, and you can’t schedule, say, a Friday afternoon to be creative. Our thoughts are like spaghetti and ideas come and go. Those ideas we really engage with, we pursue passionately, and we will always find the time to focus on them. But we need the energy of others to help these ideas to flourish. Ideation is for everyone in the company, and it is about building prototypes and mock-ups and testing them in real life with real customers.”

How the industry challenges innovation

However, the reality of the building industry is that it is often perceived as slow-moving in terms of innovative thinking, and bringing new innovations to market and nurturing them to success can take years.

“The industry is driven by building codes and regulations, so there is a paradox of offering something better when the customer says, ‘We don’t actually need this, because we just need to be within regulations’,” says Steen.


“In addition, contractors and installers are working to very strict budgets and there may be subcontractors who are resistant to more effective processes, so customers may be risk-sensitive to new ideas and not have the capacity to try or learn something new.

“So, it is important to push out these innovative technologies and support them as long as needed, for example, through training. Making test installations and training sessions with innovations in focus provides installers with a lot of learnings which increases trust in the new solution.”

Innovation trends in the building industry

Today is United Nations World Creativity and Innovation Day, a time “to reflect on the role of creativity and innovation in all aspects of human development”. So, what does Steen see as the key areas of innovation in the building industry?

“If you don’t know what will happen in the future you have to make a decision about it."

At Knauf Insulation, our current focus is on developing the knowledge, ideation and front-end innovation necessary for creating innovative solutions that meet the needs of customers and society.
Steen Lindby, Knauf Insulation’s Group Director of Market Innovation

Steen highlights sustainability as the main driver of the future of construction with the energy performance of Knauf Insulation solutions an essential priority.

“This is what we offer. It’s important because we need to understand how we can make specifiers successful by using our solutions. It is also vital that we continue to build on the success of our efforts into reducing CO2 emissions from the building process and building materials.”

Tomorrow’s building innovations today

In addition, the reuse of raw materials — circularity — must be a focus because building styles will have to change in future as the need to dismantle a house and reuse its materials becomes an imperative. “Prefabrication will certainly be an important factor in future,” he says.

Steen also underlines the trend for digitalisation and automation in the industry to increase productivity. “All those things we’ve been dreaming about in the last 30 years are here, now. What we can do on the digital side is already amazing.”

Steen also sees huge scope for robotics in construction. With Europe’s building labour force anticipated to shrink dramatically due to an aging population, there are opportunities for semi-automation. Unpleasant jobs such as those featuring hard and repetitive movements can be carried out by robots, Steen says, freeing up workers to complete the handcrafted finishing.

Bottomline of innovation

“We must always keep our focus on how can we make installers and specifiers more successful? How can we make them work more efficiently with our solutions?”

There are two another inevitable focus points as well. Cost and competition. “Everyone lives up to specifications. So, it’s about the cost of material and cost of labour. I believe there is a lot of innovation in finding new ways of installing our solutions making it easier for installers and specifiers.

“It’s also important that we maintain our competitive edge in the industry by focusing on factors such as price, installation cost and performance. We must always keep these considerations in mind as we continue to innovate and evolve our products, solutions and services to meet the changing needs of our customers.”


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