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Technology in Search of a Market

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In a conference room in 3M's Performance Chemicals and Fluids Division, the division's five- member team assigned to find markets for a new technology was deep in discussion on a darkening mid-December afternoon in 1997. Mary Sonnack, division scientist and 3M internal consultant on innovative market research, had opened the meeting by saying, "We are drowning in wonderful technologies at 3M for which we lack markets. But our current experiment with Lead User research with this division's rapid cooling technology may show other divisions how to turn technologies into breakthrough products."

Technology in Search of a Market

Sonnack was referring to 3M Hydrofluoroether® (HFE), a fluid developed by a team of researchers at 3M Speciality Fluids charged with replacing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Greg Sherwood, also at the meeting, had first worked with HFE as part of his mechanical engineering Master's thesis, discovering some properties that could make it a formidable heat transfer fluid. At low temperatures, when conventional heat transfer brines--such as those found in European grocery refrigeration--moved like sludge, HFE continued to flow almost like water. Sherwood subsequently developed a way to pipe HFE around for flexibly transferring cooling to wherever it was needed.

As wonderful as the new technology was, like many 3M technologies it sat on the shelf. Then, in August 1997, Sherwood's divisional market development supervisor, Mary Zettel, had contacted Sonnack in order to establish a rapid-cooling Lead User team. The team, tongue-in-cheek, referred to itself as, "A Rapid-Cooling Technology in Search of a Market" Team1. Sherwood reminded the Lead User team at the outset: "HFE costs $250 per gallon . . . at that cost, no one will buy it. What we need is a way to bury the high cost into a system that would ideally sell itself. That is our primary challenge for creating a market."

After an intensive research process using the stages of the Lead User methodology, which involved the review of industries ranging from pharmaceuticals to food transportation, the team narrowed its search to the food industry--a wide arena. Kathy Williams, the team's management sponsor, had encouraged the team not to narrow options too prematurely. An initial starting point

1 Lead User team members of the "Fast Cooling in Search of a Need" project--all from the Performance Chemicals and Fluids Division--included: Mary Zettel, market development; Greg Sherwood, research specialist; Linda Tsai, corporate marketing; John Pignato, technical service; and Steve Pignato, regional sales representative. Kathy Williams, U.S. and international market operation manager, was the team's sponsor. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Professor Stefan Thomke and



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