For any company bringing complex fluid products to their customers, the last decade has most likely been one of constant adjustment. Navigating new consumer demands and the race to find new product applications have always been part and parcel of product development. In that relatively stable scenario, price and quality would have been two major determinants of what raw ingredients are used. From there, it was a matter of conducting wet lab tests to see what works best.
Things are different today. The onset of a pandemic, supply chain breakdowns, raw ingredient scarcity and the climate crisis are ramping up the complexity associated with R&D. It's easy to see how the average R&D team can quickly become overwhelmed by it all. Wet lab personnel, already working at capacity, must now consider an array of new things. If an ingredient works, will it even be available? If so, can they use it without an end product falling foul of sustainability requirements?
It's an ever changing scenario, where complex fluids must be formulated, tested, changed and re-tested, across multiple product lines. It's not been pretty for formulators, experimental scientists, or the leaders heading up the R&D departments. The amount of physical experiments needed is growing exponentially, dragging down productivity and increasing costs.
Despite all of the fluctuations happening in the background, a key aspect of any successful product will be its ability to deliver on what the end consumer wants. That hasn't gone away. Innovative products still matter, but it's important to be clear on their environmental impact. Confidence is needed on the sustainability of a product, and the voices calling for that assurance are only growing louder.
In this context. R&D is crucial. The search is on to make it faster, smarter and less costly while at the same time making sure it leads to end products that are valued in the market. Creating that value however, can mean thousands upon thousands of experiments, so something has to make it all easier. This is where digital R&D comes in - the capacity to test hypotheses and simulate various conditions. Physical testing will of course be needed, but digitally erradicating those doomed to failure will ensure that testing is focused on formulations that make sense.
Another key benefit is the capacity to think outside the box, and this is the engine that drives innovation. It's not possible to increase or decrease gravity in a lab and watch the impact on a formulation, but digitally it is. When you don't really know why different chemicals work together, or why particular formulations fail, there's a lack of understanding. That makes it harder to come up with new ideas. The crucial data that underlines any decisions is just not there, meaning it's harder to just break out and try something new.
As R&D moves into this new age, it could be a tumultous time. However, difficulty is often part of change. No matter how things go in the coming years, R&D's pivotal role in innovation should be more appreciated than ever.
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