Innovation is in our DNA

 

Innovation is in our DNA

Innovation cannot be decreed. It is the result of a deliberate approach that involves all areas of expertise in a company. This is demonstrated by Arnaud Peters, a young Doctor in History at the University of Liège and probably one of the best European specialists in the history of metallurgy of non-ferrous metals, in his book entitled “La VIEILLE MONTAGNE – Innovations et mutations dans l’industrie de zinc” (La VIEILLE MONTAGNE – Innovations and mutations in the zinc industry) published by Editions de la Province de Liège, which details the innovation processes deployed at the Société des Mines et Fonderies de zinc de la Vieille Montagne between 1806 and 1873!

Innovating is cultural at VMZINC

We couldn’t remain indifferent to this high quality work. When we heard about it at VMZINC we began thinking about what makes up the DNA of our company. Apart from the social dimension I referred to in my saga “The fabulous destiny of la Vieille Montagne – episode 6” and the international dimension (our company was the first multinational in Europe), the members of the board of management all share the same conviction: innovation has always been at the core of the company’s culture and success. This is why we accepted to contribute financially to this book, the preface of which was signed by Christophe Bissery, head of the R&D and environmental applications department at VMZINC.

Constantly improving the initial process!

What Arnaud Peters points to in his in-depth analysis of our company’s 19th and 20th century archives (kept in the State Archives in Cointe, on the heights of Liège, which houses what is probably the most extensive collection of industrial archives in Europe) is that innovation never happened by chance or simply thanks to the genius of some brilliant executives. It was always the result of structured action, the aim of which was to constantly improve the initial process of inventor Jean-Jacques Daniel Dony, known as “du four Liégeois”.

Without going into too much detail, here are some characteristics featured in these innovation approaches, which were developed almost completely independently (we see that there were few partnerships or technology takeovers)

  • Implementation of an international technology watch, probably one of the first in the world,
  • Regular filing of patents from the middle of the 19th century following a strategic decision to protect inventions. The patents were filed systematically in the name of the innovating engineer
  • Sharing of information between site directors during regular meetings
  • Culture of experimentation and full-scale testing,
  • Autonomy of each production site, sometimes even with competition between sites (in all countries) in research and development of new processes,

Liège is changing

A presentation of the book was organised on 5 December 2016 in a highly symbolic place, the Museum of Metallurgy and Industry in Liège (MMIL), which houses numerous documents, illustrations and industrial tools from the town’s great industrial era. Particularly those associated with the “5 big ones” of the Liège region: Cockerill, Ougrée-Marihaye, Espérance-Longdoz, the FN (Fabrique Nationale d’Armes) and la Vieille Montagne, who contributed to this museum.

This little pilgrimage to my home town enabled me to observe that Liège is changing. Is it the Guggenheim syndrome (*) generated by the construction of the spectacular station by Santiago Calatrava (inaugurated in 2009) and that gave rise to the creation of a new major thoroughfare leading to the Meuse? This thoroughfare is extended by a footbridge with a view of la Boverie fine arts museum (renovated in 2015 by French architect Rudy Ricciotti), the new Media centre and the MMIL, which could, in the long term, benefit from higher levels of frequentation.

After a glass of local wine, I headed for my train back to Paris and promised Arnaud Peters I would invite him to one of our upcoming board of management meetings, where he can give us some more details on just what the “innovation DNA” of la Vieille Montagne is made of.

The objective: allow us to understand what in the current innovation process at VMZINC remains original and based on the company’s original culture, thus confirming Christina of Sweden’s motto: “the science of your past is your passport for the future”.

Roger Baltus
Engineer - Architect
VMZINC Communication Director

  More articles about architecture
  Roger Baltus's column