Schindler’s New Technologies team is on a quest to find the transformative technologies of tomorrow.
Deploying robodogs on construction sites, developing 3D-printed elevator cars, working with prefabricated hoistway modules stacked like Lego blocks… these are just a few of the innovations our colleagues in the New Technologies team have experimented with recently, guided by the same goal: shaping the future of urban mobility.
Their relentless quest for the next big thing once earned them the nickname of ‘Truffle Pigs of Innovation’. The name, coined by an industry journalist, has stuck.
The analogy might seem unflattering, but Christian Studer, who heads the interdisciplinary New Technologies team based out of Ebikon, Switzerland, is not one to take offense.
"You need to have a good flair for trends and ideas and be able to sniff out the opportunities that are lying just below the surface", he says. "When you catch a good whiff, you need to move fast to maintain that first-mover advantage and unearth what could be a game-changer for the industry."
The team’s innovation scouting efforts extend way beyond elevator technology: smart construction, mobility in the broad sense of the word, digitization, machine learning, sustainability – a great number of technologies go under the team’s microscope each year.
Not all of the technologies screened by the team make the cut. Sometimes, the technology is too ‘advanced’ – the market is not ready for it. Other times, the technology might have huge potential, but it’s a no-no as far as regulation is concerned. "But nothing is ever in vain," explains Christian. "Each project brings its share of learnings that we can transfer to other projects."
Innovation is not just about doing things differently, explains Christian. It must always create value. "We always look at it from the perspective of our customers – what benefits would that technology bring to them?"
Innovation scouting can be thrilling – but getting up close and personal with cool technology is only part of the story, explains Christian. "Innovation is of course about technology, but more importantly it’s about people," he says. "All innovations must put people at the center."
We always look at it from the perspective of our customers – what benefits would that technology bring to them?
Christian Studer, Head New Technologies
Some of the coolest innovations launched by Schindler in recent years can be attributed to the team. Schindler R.I.S.E, the industry’s first self-climbing robot able to conduct elevator installation autonomously, is a case in point.
The team was also the initial driving force behind Schindler Ahead IoEE, a technology that allows for the remote inspection, maintenance, and repair of elevators.
"Very often we just plant the seed," says Christian. "We provide inspiration, challenge our colleagues with our proof of concepts and show the feasibility of the latest technologies." These ideas and technologies are then taken up by other teams who build on this work to develop a full-fledged product.
But how does a specific technology come on the team’s radar in the first place? "Through exchange," explains Christian. "When people from diverse backgrounds meet, new ideas are bound to pop up. Diversity in age, experience and gender is key."
The New Technology team fits that description to a tee, bringing together under the same roof mechatronic engineers, data analysts, software specialists and civil construction engineers. They might come from different lines of work, but all have one thing in common. "We need people able to dig deep and fast on a great variety of topics," Christian says.
To generate new ideas, the team also makes a point of meeting regularly with other departments, field technicians, but also start-ups, customers, and universities. The team also maintains a presence at the EPFL University in Lausanne to drive innovation with student teams.By nature, innovating by adopting new technologies means navigating unchartered territory, with all the risks that it entails. And that might not be for everyone.
"Pioneering innovation is not for the faint-hearted," explains Christian. "It means stepping out of your comfort zone."