Where do product ideas come from, and what steps do they go through before they arrive at the retailers?
Bjørn Ivar Austrem, the head of research and development at Madshus, explains that it can take years from an idea is on the table until the product is for sale. Sometimes the process is much faster. But regardless, it is always a carefully considered development process.
Where do ideas come from?
Some ideas are market driven, and often originate from the sales and marketing teams from around the world. They know a lot about what kind of equipment customers want and need in the different price categories.
“We have a group that meets regularly, get feedback and exchange ideas. Sometimes they tell us we are missing a specific product in a certain category. This might be a slightly wider touring ski, or that we don’t have a ski that fits a specific product segment and price point,” Austrem says.
Other ideas originate from the racers, racing reps and service techs.
“In this area, we and our athletes are always pushing the limits. We are always on the cutting edge of the innovation, and testing new base materials, ski construction geometries, flexes and cambers, to make sure our athletes always have the best possible equipment. We use our experience and feedback from the top racing community to develop skis for the general consumer market,” Austrem says.
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Evolution or revolution?
“Some ideas become products that revolutionize the trade and the industry standard. The new double-pole ski Propulsion is a good example. This ski is designed entirely from scratch, with completely a new geometry that is different from every other ski model, and molded in brand new molds. Other ideas are more like an evolution, a refined version of an existing product. People expect updates. Some of these are bigger things like adjusting flex and camber, other times these updates are new, fresh graphics,” Austrem explains.
“When we get feedback and suggestions from our athletes or the marketing departments, we have to evaluate whether these ideas and determine if we are talking about an evolution, such as a change of graphics, smaller adjustments to the properties of the ski including flex or base materials, or a revolution where we will need to develop entirely new models that will require new molds, new geometries and new construction concepts,” he says.
At the same time as the research and development department processes and handles this external feedback, there is also a constant in-house development process going on where Madshus engineers are developing ideas, researching new materials, product development.
All of these processes also need to fit into the overall development schedule, which typically follows a 2-year cycle that coincides with the major international events, such as the Olympics and the FIS World Championships. Currently, 2018 is the next release cycle. During the Olympic Winter Games in South Korea we will launch our entirely new 2019 Redline models.
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The revolution process
“If we determine that we need a revolution, we start entirely from scratch. We consider a lot of different elements as well as all feedback from our athletes and marketing departments. The Madshus Propulsion ski is a great example. The double-pole classic ski is a brand new product for an entirely new ski technique, based on a radically different way to ski than traditional classic skiing. We had to start with a whole new geometry for this ski, and it also needs to look new, as we are developing a whole new market with this product,” Austrem explains.
“We had been thinking about building a marathon ski for a while, but what should it be? We had to determine how the ski needed to behave. We know what our elite marathon skiers have been using in previous years when they have won Vasaloppet and other legendary marathon events. But the marathon classic technique today is radically different than even just a few years ago, and it is evolving quickly. As the technique has become more extreme, we recognized how we had to construct the ski in order to meet the needs of our marathon racers,” he says.
The research and development team at the factory receives constant feedback from the top athletes and their equipment managers on the race circuit, and carry a continual dialogue with them through the entire development process.
There are a lot of features to test: Base materials, new varieties of carbon fibers and other construction elements are some. Flex, stiffness and cambers have to be tested and adjusted.
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Simultaneously, Austrem and his colleagues are handling their other development projects, which are also taken into consideration in the new Propulsion project, as they are with the evolution of any other ski model.
“We can adjust a lot of the properties that we are considering with equipment that are currently in production, and accordingly, we can produce new prototypes very quickly. We do quite a few rounds of this where we evaluate the feedback carefully before we purchase a new mold. And again, this whole development cycle needs to be coordinated with the overall launch schedule and general product cycles. If we have an entirely new product, this is a great time to launch other news as well, such as redesigned models, new base materials or reinforcements that improve existing models,” Austrem says.
Research and innovation
In addition to their internal development and feedback from the athletes the marketing departments, Madshus also works closely with major research institutions on various kinds of innovations. With grants from Forskningsrådets Brukerstyrte innovasjonsarena BIA (Norwegian institute of research and engineering’s user-generated innovation arena), Madshus can cooperate with a number of researchers in different fields and institutions. These include SINTEF, universities such as the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) and selected corporate research institutions.
“These grants allow us to initiate projects with a higher risk, which have the potential to develop entirely new products with brand new technologies,” says Austrem.
He points out that the Empower app is an example of such innovation partnerships. The Empower app gives the skier and the retailer access to all the specifications and about the properties of one specific ski, which are collected on a chip that is imbedded in the ski.
Also, smart products, the Internet of Things, is just the beginning of an exciting future. At the moment, Madshus is working on various products that analyze biomechanics. By studying biomechanics in real-time, you can discover entirely new ways to see things, which again can be used to develop new products and services, Austrem says.