Innovation in the Mix

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car

How do you go from dental work to accident repair?

What do a dent in your car and a broken tooth have in common? If you said they’re both annoying problems that need fixing, you’d be right, but in the connected world of 3M innovation, the answer goes much further.

This story begins with a 3M team that was developing products for vehicle repair garages. They noticed that the process for mixing the vehicle body filler used to repair dents and dings in cars hadn’t improved in over 50 years. The filler was mixed by hand in a wasteful, error-prone process that was a mess - both literally and figuratively.

It turned out there were good reasons why the vehicle body shop workers were mixing by hand. Automatic mixing at the 50:1 ratio required for vehicle body filler was a significant technical challenge. Further study of the problem showed that standard mixing systems were not up to the challenge. Mixing a 50:1 ratio in a static mixing system generated intolerable “back pressure” on the whole system, effectively shutting it down.

A breakthrough came when the 3M technical team contacted an unlikely source - fellow scientists in 3M’s dental division. While dental work may seem miles apart from car repair, the fundamental ideas and technologies behind 3M innovation have a tendency to bring such seemingly disparate worlds much closer together when it comes to solving a problem. The 3M dental and vehicle repair teams saw opportunity in the 3M ESPE Pentamix™ Automatic Mixing Unit, an instrumental product that enables dentists to mix putty-like dental impression material more efficiently. The putty is typically used to make crowns and bridges, and the Pentamix™ unit addressed similar issues of waste and quality that were also important to vehicle body workers.

The two 3M teams collaborated to explore how the Pentamix™ dental solution could help the vehicle body team innovate and overcome technical hurdles to develop a functional mixing system for body filler. But the chain reaction of ideas was just getting started. Automatic (dynamic) mixing was all well and good, but there was still waste resulting from the batch process, bench-top mixing system.

The 3M vehicle repair team wanted a process that was continuous and portable, so they looked at 3M cartridge technology, as well as specialised applicators and nozzles, and devised a solution. Now the mixing was not only dynamic, but mobile, so the material could be applied directly from nozzle to vehicle: no waste, no walking back and forth. The resulting 3M Dynamic Mixing System gives vehicle body shops accurately mixed body filler on demand, while avoiding the mess and waste of manual mixing.

So from a 3M perspective, whether you’re paying a visit to the dentist or making a trip to the vehicle body shop, the purpose is the same: to solve a problem. That’s where innovation comes in; it just takes imagination and persistence to look for answers in unexpected places. Who knows what the power of 3M collaboration will mix up next?