Innovation and Quality: a scientific perspective
Paola Ardia is an Analytical Scientist with Imerys Graphite & Carbon’s R&D team based at our Technology Center in Bironico, Switzerland. Paola holds a PhD and Msc degree in Earth Sciences from ETH Zürich, Switzerland. She joined Imerys Graphite & Carbon in 2018. Her specific responsibilities include the development of new analytical methods, ensuring quality and continuous improvement of the analytical capability within R&D, and Imerys Graphite & Carbon; supporting Quality Management; and she is responsible for environmental management of the Bironico site.
Imerys Graphite & Carbon plays a leadership role in the innovation of graphite and carbon based solutions. Vision and foresight are fundamental to anticipate industry trends as well as developing optimal technologies to deliver excellent results. At the core of the enhancement and refinement of Imerys Graphite & Carbon solutions is scientific research.
What is your role within the continuous innovation process?
Innovation is a team effort. The research & development team focuses on innovation with a customer oriented approach. Our focus is on market trends and customer needs. We try to anticipate the next step and sometimes we help customers see “the other side of the coin”. Anticipating new limits, improving quality, finding reliable new measurements are all part of the daily job of our team. We transform ideas into new improved products and services, in order to successfully differentiate Imerys Graphite & Carbon from the market, to create a competitive advantage. As scientists in general we are asked not only to answer puzzling questions but to question our thinking, our products, to reach a higher new standard – this is how the innovation process begins.
I am an earth scientist and I have learned to look at things from different perspectives. I try to provide my colleagues with other viewpoints. This dialogue and sharing of perspectives helps us to find better solutions. I am convinced that diversity in a team is key for successful innovation.
Quality is key to the success of every kind of initiative. For Imerys Graphite & Carbon in particular, ensuring the highest level of quality of our offer is fundamental to partner with demanding customers operating in different evolving markets.
What is your contribution to Quality management as an Analytical Scientist?
Quality management is a continuous process and improvements are a direct consequence. As an analytical scientist it is important to understand the various components that assure Quality management, ensuring the consistency of our processes and products.
In collaboration with other teams, we support Quality management with our observations and through specific tests, for example translating innovation from the lab to a production process in a plant. Each team member has different strengths: an important factor is to motivate everyone to commit themselves to continuous self-improvement as the basis for group innovation. My contribution to Quality management is to continuously improve my daily activities, assure the results and monitor the evaluation processes. It is also to further support the entire group by asking the right, and sometimes difficult, questions.
The final applications of Imerys Graphite & Carbon solutions belong to a variety of different industries, such as: electric vehicles and batteries, energy storage systems, polymers, engineering materials, refractories and metallurgy. Final products deriving from these industries are present in everybody’s life.
How do you feel having such a positive impact on people’s everyday life?
The life of a researcher is not based on impacting people, but we are conscious of the impact that our research-topics could have on people. The research team works to improve their knowledge and push the limits with respect to the context and their different strengths. Our efforts will allow Imerys Graphite & Carbon to improve quality, reliability and sustainability, positively impacting customers and final users and, hopefully, promote scientific thinking.
I belong to a team of researchers with various backgrounds and our collaboration allows us to progress further.
Hard work and focus on innovation and quality targets for the greater benefit of everybody should be very gratifying.
What is your message to support young girl students’ aptitude towards scientific studies?
Science and research are fantastic. All sciences are great. Walking on a street or on a mountain path, looking at the clouds dancing with the wind and observing a snow crystal melting to water we realise that we are surrounded by science. Each time we ask ourselves “why? how?” we enter the world of science: physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy… We need to listen to the answers, research for them, study and question ourselves again. Curiosity makes science universal and free of barriers. I was lucky to grow up in a society that allowed me to decide for my own future – but there is still a lot of work to be done to overcome barriers based on any dimension of our diversity.
I fell in love with science before knowing how to pronounce it. Poets have the wording to describe science and scientists have the questions to realize the next dreams. Sciences follow simple laws and principles – asking questions is the first step to finding solutions. Listening to the answers is respecting science and our curiosity.