THE ORIGINS OF INNOVATION, NEXION UNMASKED
We take a look behind the scenes as the Correggio based firm transforms ideas into innovative products, constantly extending its portfolio of brands, first and foremost Corghi: here is how they originate and take shape
Mino De Rigo
Leading companies must always be at the forefront of innovation. Whether it is to consolidate their leadership, or to become the driving force of development or simply because the market expects it. The Nexion group is no exception to the rule, whose new products are unveiled every six months, during the sector’s most important exhibitions and fairs. Mauro Bergamini, product manager of the tire changers division, which represents about 40% of the company’s turnover, explains that: “Investing on innovation and strategic planning is the lifeblood of the company. Specific committees discuss each new idea, which stems from direct contact with end users in each distinct geographic market”. A virtuous cycle made up of a series of proposed solutions fueled by constant feedback from clients, often anticipating their needs, whether great or small. “Once the idea has taken shape – says Bergamini – the project manager has the responsibility to identify each of the product’s features, both in terms of performance as well as target price and process schedule. At this point all data are transferred to the Technical Management, which will identify a Project Leader who will supervise the design and development process of the product up to six months after the sale. The Product Manager still oversees the whole process, following it step by step through previously scheduled “control windows” as well as all aspects related to the product’s commercial launch, which is rather complex and yet decisive. The central idea remains the same: to innovate, providing our customers with tangible benefits.
Significant new developments every year
This means new automatic devices that simplify, relieve and make working operations more intuitive, new materials to be preferred due to their technical or eco-friendly specs, new methods of application of alternative energy sources, new electronic information systems ready for technology transfer. Think of garage equipment able to communicate with each other via Bluetooth and that can, at the same time, be remotely accessed by a service center, so as to prevent possible breakdowns and promptly intervene as a result of real-time diagnosis. “Our sight – explains Bergamini – is set on supplying wheel service specialists with tools that combine every new technology available. From the original idea to the actual production, the development process takes about a year and a half. On average, every brand of the group aims at launching, at least, a couple of new products every year”. Within the Nexion group, innovation is the result of a consolidated process of medium and long-term investments, where each phase relies on a specific structure. “It all starts from a feeling that some needs have not been properly met, or more importantly, by hearing our clients, which is a vital and systematic activity for us. If needed, we divide our customers into categories and informally present them with a series of helpful questions to identify the current hot topic, as well as their needs and desires. These hours spent with our clients are paramount to understand what happens in workshops during the most hectic working periods”.
The tire specialist’s key role
This is where the basic requirements of the new product start taking shape. The original concepts behind the recent UNIFORMITY, the first Diagnostic tire changer, were themselves the object of a discussion with the sector’s high-end specialists. "Selected and demanding - adds the manager of Nexion – they are the benchmark of innovation in the high range segment, although sometimes new innovative products are used as credentials, rather than being exploited to the full. Then there is the mid segment, which accounts for almost 70% of the business volume and is ultimately responsible for decreeing the success of a product on the market. Then, last but not least, we find a number of tire dealers who happen to be less sensitive to innovation but greatly appreciate the opportunity to work in a cleaner and less strenuous manner". At times technical developments are limited to specific improvements, such as the “Winut” a wireless locking device for wheel balancers, a Corghi patent. “Whatever the case, it is essential for us to understand how our clients consider and value our solutions. Therefore, after sounding out the market, the following step consists in determining which features are more likely to make our products attractive. For example, our UNIFORMITY tire changer allows the specialist to perform match-mounting operations without having to move to a balancer”. After repeating the same operations on a couple of foreign markets, the Product Manager can finally draw up the product fiche with the relevant characteristics, performance data as well as market positioning, that is, how much the market is willing to pay for these new machines or developments.
From prototype to production
“At this stage – continues Bergamini – everything will be passed on to the technical management, which will chose a project leader who will develop the technical solutions until the desired performances are reached. Consequently, an outline of the technical requirements is produced in order to start the feasibility study”. From this point, a detailed and meticulous process gets underway until the new machine hits the market. Part of the project validation process are, besides the already mentioned feasibility study, a thorough cost analysis, ending with the design and making of all the elements of the prototypes.
“A first prototype able to simulate the characteristics of a new product is indispensable, a first contact with reality, with ergonomics playing a pivotal role. We must never forget that we are building equipment that will become our client’s first working partner. Further prototyping stages are instrumental in simulating the characteristics of the new product, whereby, through tests of all kinds, possible future problems are identified and, if possible, solved. The prototyping phase will be over only when all technical requirements have been met to be followed by the vital testing stage, where resistance and safety are tested in all working conditions, even in climatic chambers (from -15 to +60°C). A pilot series of prototype machines are then produced to test their performances and reliability right in our clients’ workshops, sometimes scattered throughout the world.
A second pilot series, modified after the first field trial results, is made to test the production line and the relative quality control. Simultaneously, the commercial strategy is laid out, which consists initially in unveiling the new product during an important trade fair or equally dedicated event. At this stage, certifying bodies are involved, and sometimes agreements are made with a few vehicle manufacturers.
WHEN INVESTMENTS AND INNOVATION MAKE UP NORMAL GROUP SYNERGIES
Technical enhancements and developments, alongside genuine innovations. A constant commitment in investments was also shown during the 2015 edition of Autopromotec. Starting with the first diagnostic tire changer, the Corghi UNIFORMITY, which among the company’s many patented devices can boast a dynamic bead breaking device. Furthermore, the variable load pressure roller can measure the variations of radial and lateral pressure, almost like a road simulator; not to mention the immediate and precise match-mounting information obtained through a triangulation laser. The smaller tire changers Aquila Tornado by Mondolfo Ferro and the S1000 Evoluzione by Sice, both equipped with a unique device that allows a wheel to move into position under the bead breaking device and not the other way round, beside the automatic positioning of all tools. A further example, the touchless Remo aligner from which the pre-check f.a.s.t. function Trigon quickvision by Mondolfo Ferro derives as well as Hpa’s iCheck and Sice’s A100 Quick. Among other new products, though not exactly innovative in the true sense of the word, we find a stiff and light carbon fiber clamp for 3D aligners called CarbonGrip, produced through a 3D printer; the SmartPack Tablet with a rubber clad handle that can be attached magnetically under the vehicle in order to keep an eye on the measurements at all time; and, last but by no means least, the Winut, which eliminates the need to use a foot to operate the automatic clamping system, which can be operated by simply pressing a button on the sleeve connected to the system in wireless mode.