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Combining a customer orientated approach with industrial design

How to develop new product opportunities in really crowded markets. This was the challenge facing Parker Hannifin Corporation, a Fortune 500 industrial company whose products customers in the mobile, aerospace and industrial markets have relied on for decades. Though Parker Hannifin’s brand is synonymous with exceptionally high quality, the company has been facing increasing competitive pressure and a slowing product development pipeline. As such, Parker Hannifin reached out to Northumbria University’s Design School with a request for help, and Matthew Lievesley, Director of Engagement and Enterprise, and Reader in Design, responded. 

Mr Lievesley worked in industrial design and product management in the manufacturing sector before joining the University and is qualified in both design and business. When he isn’t helping companies with innovation challenges, he teaches industrial design and innovation. 

When Parker Hannifin UK approached the University asking for helping improving its innovation processes, Mr Lievesley jumped at the chance. He and his team included Fraser McLeay and Nigel Coates from Newcastle Business School and two KTP Associates, Callum Whitehead and Ellie S. Jones, placed within the company as part of the project. They supported Parker Hannifin with industrial design and strategic marketing strategies to help the company make products that are technically excellent and customer orientated. They also helped align the company’s engineering and marketing activities, thus uncovering new growth opportunities.

The activities underway at Parker Hannifin UK’s facility in Gateshead, thanks to the Northumbria Research Team, are helping the site gain a reputation as a thought-leader in product and marketing innovation. Not only are the processes created during the collaboration being rolled out across several of Parker Hannifin’s European manufacturing sites, but also Innovate UK – a main funder for the project – graded the project as ‘Outstanding’, recognising it as one of the top projects from the 400 it funded that year.

A high proportion of products entering Parker’s product pipeline today are the result of using their new design-led innovation process to identify what customers will really value. Design thinking methodologies, tailored to the firm’s specific needs, are now enabling employees to co-create and test new product concepts with customers. 

These new processes are already paying dividends, as evidenced by a series of new product ranges the firm is developing. NITROSource – the first of the products redesigned as part of the partnership – generated a 30% jump in sales when the new model was released.

Additionally, a new CO2 purification product is in trial with some major global beverage companies; if successful, it will define a new application for filtration that has never existed before. This product earned the firm recognition from the International Society of Beverage Technologists (ISBT), which revised its best-practice manual and recommended all beverage retailers include such filtration as good practice. The guidelines are circulated to ISBT members, including hundreds of the world’s biggest drinks manufacturers.

Most recently, Parker Hannifin earned the ‘Red Dot Award: Product Design 2018’ for its newly minted integrated drying and filtration system, Oil Free Air System (OFAS), giving it a seal of design excellence highly regarded the world over.

Excitingly, Parker Hannifin UK has estimated their partnership with Northumbria’s Research Team will boost its annual sales turnover by £2.5 million in the next three years – generating £1.5 million in pre-tax profits. Moreover, with the firm’s new innovation processes in place, the company has been able to identify several new-to-the-world product lines, which it had struggled to do in recent years.

Mr Lievesley is proud of the inroads Parker Hannifin UK has made since the beginning of their collaboration. He is looking forward to working closely with the firm in the future and is excited at the prospect of helping other organisations achieve similar success in tackling their innovation challenges.

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