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26 Oct 2020

From the Spark of an Idea to the Flame of Innovation

Martin Plemel - IRD Design Engineer
Martin Plemel
Design Engineer

Innovation is a fire. It is beautiful to look at. It can grow into technology, into a technique, or into a process so huge that it transforms entire landscapes. Innovation needs investment to grow in the way a fire needs fuel. It needs space to breathe without being smothered — oxygen if you will. And to start it needs the spark of an idea.

Collaborating to find the spark

This spark usually comes from two people with different ideas coming together: a problem and a technology, a process improvement and a desire to execute, or a funding challenge and a new business model. But in a time of social distancing and working from home, how do you foster an environment that will create the next spark?

Collaborating to Spark Innovation
Bringing together different perspectives helps spark innovation

Our history of innovation

IRD is a company founded on this spark. We exist because a civil engineering professor encountered the problem of undue wear on roads. His domain expertise allowed him to work with the existing transportation agencies to define the problem they needed to solve. Together they found a solution. The technological part of that solution grew to become the Single Load Cell (SLC) weigh-in-motion scale. The business part of that solution became our company: IRD.

In the 40 years since our founding, IRD has continued to foster these sparks and to build the fire into new innovations. Innovation like the iSINC, which grew from an idea of using superior technology to simplify the rising complexity of WIM systems. Innovations like the VectorSense system, which came from the spark between novel sensing technology and the problem of getting information on each wheel. VectorSense has since grown into safety systems for detecting flat tires, efficiency programs for detecting inefficient, underinflated tires, and per axle tolling systems.

Encouraging new ideas

Since we started working from home, we have been missing the chance encounters and lunchtime discussions that create the sparks that we are so used to. A scheduled video is a nice way to reconnect with a colleague, but it doesn’t seem like the right place to foster this type of creativity. So, we found something different.

In October, IRD launched our first internal innovation challenge on a social media-like platform. This platform is a great way for people from across our group of companies to collaborate to solve problems, refine ideas, and get back the spark. By creating a system for remote workers, we have broken down the barriers of distance and time zone that kept us apart before. IRD field staff are presenting ideas to solve their customers’ problems and are able to get immediate feedback, from our team at iCOMS in Belgium to PAT Traffic in Chile.

Remote Work Collaboration
IRD is making the most of remote work and collaborative tools

Building a supportive culture

At IRD we realize that while some ideas come like a lightning strike from a blue sky, most come from the humble spark of one person being open about their problem, and someone else offering a hand to help. This culture of support is key to our innovation, and in this isolating time, it is more important than ever to make this explicit.

Changing the industry landscape

IRD is a company with a 40-year track record of fostering the sparks of good ideas until they become the fire of innovative technologies that change the entire landscape of the ITS industry. The tools may have changed, but I am excited to be virtually working alongside my colleagues from around the world on the next innovation.

 

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