Digital labs on the test bench

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UNLIMITED X by REHAU at eye level with the big players

In its issue 7/2017, the business journal Capital together with the management consultancy Infront Consulting & Management put digital labs of large and medium-sized enterprises to the test for the first time: What do they really do and how do they help the German economy take a digital leap forward? The study in which 34 so-called innovation labs and accelerators participated surprised with a list that included corporation-driven start-ups as well as those of backed by traditional, family-run companies. An example for this is UNLIMITED X, the Innovation Lab of the plastics expert REHAU. 

Munich is the adopted home of UNLIMITED X. This was a very conscious decision, because the heart of the multi-branched, well-connected start-up scene beats at least as fast in the Bavarian capital as it does in Berlin. However, the connection to the important locations of the parent company is much easier from here. The environment is considered to be particularly imaginative and creative, but also down-to-earth and enterprising.

The word enterprising also applies to the individuals at the helm of the internationally active polymer specialist REHAU with its headquarters in Rehau, Upper Franconia and an additional important innovation hub in Erlangen. Like many other German brands, the nearly 70-year-old company is in the midst of a transformation process. The biggest challenge is digital transformation. And here the company, which has more than 170 locations and over 20,000 employees, relies on support - in the form of its own innovation lab UNLIMITED X.

"We have great products and excellent system solutions on a polymer basis - this has been the basis of our success for a long time," says Dr. Stefan Girschik, Deputy CEO of the REHAU Group. "But we always need new ideas so that we can continue to meet the changing needs of an increasingly digitally networked world internationally." He explains that no one can afford to miss the digital transformation; rather, you have to take an active part in shaping it. And Stefan Thomas, head of the Innovation Lab, adds: "UNLIMITED X stands for the unlimited possibilities for new ideas that we want to dedicate ourselves to."

And this they do decisively: The inclusion among the best German innovation labs shows that their labor bears fruit. The young team is interdisciplinary, with participants coming from the Fraunhofer Institute and the University of Erlangen, the RWTH Aachen and from other start-up companies. They have only been working together under one roof in Munich since the start of the year. "To us, innovation means teamwork, which is only possible with highly motivated employees. We believe in the power of diverse teams – people with different training, experience and their individual strengths. Just the right mix of engineers, business administrators, IT specialists and experts in other disciplines as well as entrepreneurs," says Thomas.

The creative thinkers and system analysts are a kind of agile speedboat that pushes the "ocean tanker" REHAU forward. They support it in shortening its own learning curves so that functional prototypes can be presented to customers as quickly as possible.

When will this approach show results? We can already see them now! After all, with its start-ups REHAU is already on the same level as Deutsche Bahn, Hermes or ThyssenKrupp. The digital laboratory achieved a particularly positive result in the areas of "network" and "topics". UNLIMITED X is named as a best practice example for setting up partner, service, start-up and research networks.

"The placement is fantastic!," Girschik enthuses. "Now we have to achieve concrete results and continue to make a name for ourselves in the market - with products and system solutions that make tomorrow's world safer, more comfortable and smarter," the Deputy CEO explains.

Find out more about UNLIMITED X here.