Building bridges: How to share ideas across business groups

What does a business that makes polymer products for industrial applications and a business that makes vinyl siding for residential use have in common? On the surface, not much. But a second look shows that they employ injection molding – the shaping of plastic resins into useful objects – in their manufacturing processes.

05/15/2007


What does a business that makes polymer products for industrial applications and a business that makes vinyl siding for residential use have in common? On the surface, not much. But a second look shows that they employ injection molding %%MDASSML%% the shaping of plastic resins into useful objects %%MDASSML%% in their manufacturing processes.

Let’s look at another example of two disparate businesses that produce vastly different products. One produces abrasive products for the industrial, construction and automotive markets. The other manufactures Fiberglass insulation for comfort heating and cooling duct systems. While the final products are completely different, the two plants actually share similar processes that involve glass fibers in the early stages of production.

Saint-Gobain Corp., the $8.5 billion North American regional business of the global industrialist, Compagnie de Saint-Gobain, focuses on three main sectors of activity at its nearly 200 plants: construction products, packaging and high-performance materials. From these businesses come thousands of products that serve markets ranging from aerospace to automotive and construction to chemical. The large number of differing products can make cooperation among the 'sister’ businesses seem impossible.

Yet that is what Saint-Gobain does every day through a process we call 'bridgebuilding.’ We have given our businesses the directive to cooperate, share, interact and join forces. Whether it is technology, product design, research and development or human resources, we strongly encourage our businesses to look for synergistic ways that they can do things better.

Although the idea of synergy, or bridgebuilding, has been a part of the company culture for several decades, we put a stronger emphasis on it since the year 2000. It could be defined as the interaction of discrete businesses, so that the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual units. It can be applied not only to the manufacturing component of a business, but also to a wide variety of activities that might include:

  • Site sharing

  • Maintenance

  • Transportation

  • Cross-company sales and marketing

  • Distribution strategies

  • Purchasing

  • Safety training

  • Total quality management