To stay at the top, leading original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are always innovating. However, the road to continued innovation starts with R&D. For Hydraform, a pioneer and leader in alternative building technology, the ability to innovate and adapt to its customers’ requirements is strategic.
In a rapidly-changing and fiercely-competitive world, leading manufacturers are firm about what they plan to accomplish. The most successful businesses are always innovating. They are always finding new ways to build up their competitive advantages. However, research and development (R&D) is core to boosting the vision and objectives of a business, so companies such as Hydraform, a leader in Alternative Building Technology, are never reluctant when it comes to their R&D capabilities.
Speaking on the significance of this crucial arm of the business, Nazlie Dickson, MD of Hydraform SA, reasons that by investing in R&D, the company is able to deliver quality consistently, as well as developing long-standing valued relationships. “We are leaders in Alternative Building Technology. We pioneered, developed and marketed the interlocking soil-cement technology some 30 years ago. Since then we have continued to keep R&D as a core focus and strategic imperative,” states Dickson.
For Dickson, leadership means constant evaluation and assessment of the environment and making subsequent changes and evolutions to your products to meet your customers’ ever-evolving needs. “This has always been important to Hydraform, and one of our core values is to innovate and keep the customer central,” she says.
Customers forget to consider the values and core competencies of the brands and products they choose. Purchasing from a company that values their customer and delivers products that are not only fit for purpose but more importantly invest in quality mean they are there to support you well into the future. “Don’t buy cheap products, the gains are short lived and costs too many of our clients their success,” says Dickson.
Voice of Customer
Customer feedback plays a significant role in any R&D process. For solutions-based and customer-centric companies such as Hydraform, the ‘Voice of the Customer’ (VoC) has become a strategic asset in the R&D and innovation processes. VoC translates into faster customer resolutions and improvements in customer experience. “We value customer feedback and experience. We pay attention to all types of feedback – whether it’s a direct comment, social media engagement or even through our trainers in the field,” explains Dickson.
“We want to know what makes our customers’ lives easier and how we can play a role in the success of their businesses. The challenges experienced on the ground – changing markets and customer feedback – drive how and what we develop, not just for short-term gains, but for long-term sustainability and effectiveness to both Hydraform and the customer,” adds Dickson.
Speaking about the duration of the R&D process before it results into a product, Dickson says, depending on the product and the complexity, some things can come through in a matter of weeks while other products, improvements or innovations can take up to a year to be ready.
“Getting a product ready is half the challenge, but making sure we are ready to present it and deliver to the customer is the other half. When we deliver new products we must consider manufacturing efficiency so we can deliver quickly at high quality so the client gets their full value, as well as training so that both our staff and customers understand the application and can implement quickly,” says Dickson.
Matters of importance
R&D efforts don’t come cheap, the costs are significant. Therefore, it’s always frustrating that successful inventions can be copied for much less investment than the cost of the first company’s R&D. There are some companies that are there to follow the well-trodden paths, driven copying and implementing at scale technologies developed elsewhere.
“Chinese copiers have both frustrated and motivated us. Copying a machine is easy but most of these copiers don’t actually understand the technology. They don’t understand soil-cement reactions, construction or even the business of blockmaking, so their shortcomings in machine designs directly impact the customers’ experience and sadly their success,” reasons Dickson.
“Customers forget to consider the values and core competencies of the brands and products they chose. Purchasing from a company that values their customer and delivers products that are not only fit for purpose, but more importantly invest in quality, means that they are there to support you into the future. Don’t buy cheap products, the gains are short lived and costs too many of our clients their success,” she says.
She further reiterates that poor quality bricks make poor quality buildings, and the industry as a whole suffers. “Copiers don’t understand that machines produce bricks that build homes. These homes are places where people build families and lives. Delivering poor quality on something you don’t take the time to understand or invest in means you could not only cost people livelihoods, but their very lives,” says Dickson.
“Hydraform has not only invested in our technology and products but focuses heavily on training. A key to success is training, we promote training, spending up to two weeks with clients onsite to ensure adequate knowledge gain and skills transfer. Where applicable, we also do extended support programmes, spending months on a client’s site to ensure quality, productivity and cost effectiveness,” adds Dickson.
However, Dickson believes that it’s not only copiers to watch, but also innovative techniques and processes that can be implemented on Hydraform’s products to improve quality, efficiency and effectiveness in production. “We also watch industry trends, like changing building codes, practices and norms. Walls are getting thinner, structures are getting taller and space is at a premium on many sites, so developing products that are fit for purpose is key,” she says.
In conclusion, Dickson says successful businesses are often born out of a passion. “Hydraform has been passionate about soil-cement technology for 30 years, but it wasn’t only that passion that excited us – seeing how we could make a difference and revolutionise an entire industry excited us even more! We are passionate about delivering our technology to make a difference and bring about change, and that inspires our R&D strategy, motivates our improvement, while driving us to always better everything we do,” concludes Dickson.