René Freudenberg
CEO
Interlub
/
View from the Top

Innovation, a Company Effort

By Andrea Villar | Mon, 06/01/2020 - 14:38

Q: What makes Interlub different from its competitors?

A: It is a trend now, but we have been dealing with innovation for a while. We live in an era of disruption but that does not mean innovation. Innovation is still a rare element and just a few companies are committed to it, mostly with the implementation of technological developments. However, we are committed to executing true innovation coming from Mexico.

The industrial lubrication industry is among the most traditional sectors and it is ruled by huge petrochemical monsters that play a significant role globally. Their main business is oil extraction, but other sub-products of oil extraction, such as lubricants, are highly profitable for them. These big companies set the standards and they determine what products are available. Nevertheless, there is always a gap that standardized products cannot cover. All manufacturing companies have at least some processes that require specific lubricant formulations and configurations and that is where we come in. We have worked for 35 years to develop the best products for unconventional conditions. Mature industries need specific product innovation and we have built a system that can meet these conditions.

Q: How do you ensure continuous innovation in your operations?

Our R&D department is strong and significant resources are dedicated to this area. However, innovation is not the job of one department but of the whole company. Many concepts are involved in this that go against traditional business paradigms. Companies tend to look to increase their efficiency and boost competitiveness, but innovation requires some redundancy and experimentation that might be viewed as a waste of resources. Sometimes, innovations are discovered along the way and not planned.

We have developed three principles that allow us to develop better products for the market. First, we focus on unconventional solutions. We focus on what others ignore. Standard products compete based on price and availability, whereas innovative solutions compete based on the benefits they offer. If the product turns into a commodity, we are no longer the right fit to provide it since we put a lot of money into R&D, which makes our operation more expensive. Returns are not easy to measure in innovation and sometimes the company has to bet on 10 different developments to get one right. However, the return can beat any expectation when developing the right product.

Our second cornerstone is the opposite of minimalism: maximalism. We look to enrich our execution and to explore all possible fronts to increase creativity. We have people from different disciplines, such as biology, physics and chemical engineering, in our R&D department and we try to use the diversity in our company to find better solutions. Efficiency is good but it sometimes reduces the creative capacity within the organization.

The third focus is on quality. We do not have the lowest prices because we offer the highest cost-benefit to our clients. We look for innovation from the whole company, not only from one department. Our operations are fully certified and we even have won the national quality award. We export products to 37 countries, including Canada and the US, although these do not exceed 4 percent of our export volume. These markets are dominated by regional kings from the American market.  However, we are present in Germany, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Italy and Brazil. Although sixty-five percent of our production stays in Mexico, which is still our main market, we believe our company has huge growth potential because our solutions and business model are necessary in so many regions of the world. 

Q: How does the company incorporate sustainability when innovating?

A: Fifteen years ago, our R&D team began to introduce bio-oriented product lines made with materials that had a lower environmental impact. All technologies can be sustainable or at least can incorporate renewable materials. Our goal is to make all lubricants from renewable materials in the next 10 years. This means a change in the industry’s paradigm to help clients understand how innovative products improve their operations when compared with oil-based lubricants. 

We also work as consultants on manufacturing processes. We evaluate the situation before designing the lubricant and then we implement it and measure its impact. Through this process, we reduce consumption by about 30 percent because these products do not degrade as fast as their traditional counterparts. Lubricants represent 1-2 percent of maintenance costs but if companies choose the wrong product, this can turn into 30 to 40 percent of their maintenance costs. 

Q: What is your participation in the food and beverages industry?

A: The company also fabricates food-grade lubricants. In this sector, we must guarantee that lubricants will not have a negative effect in the case of accidental contact with the food. We have all the necessary certifications and a specific area focused on food-grade products that meets ISO 22000 standards. Some companies are substituting butter or paper with lubricants to prevent food from sticking to the packaging. One company saved 10 tons of waste by implementing our solutions. 

Right now, the sectors that use most of our portfolio are the glass, steel and mining industries. These are still ruled by traditional giants but we position ourselves by finding the market niches that every industry has. The challenge is to show the client there is a market for everyone and to help them understand that we are not here to substitute their traditional supplier. We come to solve a problem for which they are already losing money and productivity. Every company on the planet has missed opportunities because of unmet needs.

Q: What are your goals for Interlub in the midterm?

A: In the midterm, we want to finalize some innovation projects we have in the pipeline and work toward the company’s internationalization, especially given this economic slowdown. We also want to break the paradigm that says you need to be big to get recognition when the truth is you need to be good. 

 

Interlub is a Mexican company specialized in developing tailor-made lubricants for mechanical components that are exposed to operating conditions. The company participates in several industries, including automotive, mining and construction

Photo by:   Interlub
Andrea Villar Andrea Villar Journalist and Industry Analyst