Bravery, Artificial Intelligence & the Difference between Science and Engineering.
Q&A with Paul Barron, Research & Development Director – Legrand
In 1995 Paul Barron joined HPM as a Graduate Electronics Engineer. Today, he is the Research & Development Director for Legrand Australasia.
From being the very first employee in family-owned HPM to have an email address - to working in a connected, global organisation operating at the cutting-edge of electrical and digital building infrastructures – it’s fair to say, Paul has witnessed significant change over the last 26 years.
We caught up with Paul to discuss his journey with Legrand, the changes he’s seen and the product innovations that will impact our future.
Q. You’ve said in the past that the best part of R&D is solving problems, and to see the solution making a real difference. When you think back, is there one solution that stands out?
A. Some of the most satisfying achievements in my career have been the small, incremental achievements that bit-by-bit, build up to the end solution.
But the achievement that I’m most proud of is the team that we’ve built here.
There’s over 30 people working on 100-plus projects at any one time. Many of those people have been with the company for well over 14 years. It’s a team with so much experience, they want to come to work every day to find solutions for our customers. That’s really rewarding for me.
We now also have a cross-functional team that works across product development. It includes people from marketing, purchasing, compliance and R&D. It’s totally transparent, if something doesn’t work, there’s no blaming other people. Either the team succeeds or the team fails.
Q. What do you think sets Legrand apart?
A. We have such a diverse product range, and although we have the backing and resources of the global Legrand Group, a majority of the products that we sell are designed, specified and manufactured within our own plant.
We have world-class laboratory equipment and world-class manufacturing right here in Australia. That means we can be more reactive to market needs. We can change faster, and without things getting lost in translation.
And, our products are safe. People come to us because we offer quality, safe products, they trust us. Legrand is an electrical company working with dangerous voltages – safety is paramount. We do not rely on the standards; they are basic bottom line. We go 100% over and above the standards.
Q. Can you describe the journey from the initial identification of an ‘idea’ to the development of a solution ready for market?
A. We use a phased decision-making process called Stage-Gate. Typically, the process from idea to launch will take between one-two years.
At each stage, there are checks and balances in place to control the exponential investment curve.
It’s rare, but we have pulled products at the very late stages because of changes in legislation or changes in technology that we didn’t anticipate. It’s tough, but you need to be brave - you don’t want to end up with a million fittings sitting on a shelf that you cannot sell.
Q. Could you identify one single technological advancement that has most significantly impacted R&D over the last 20 years?
A. Digitalisation of the entire office, this process has been a total revolution.
You can now test, design, verify and communicate so much more efficiently. It’s enabled faster development times, faster times to market.
The ability to have face to face conversations with people around the world using collaborative tools means we can now run successful projects with anyone, anywhere.
Q. This digitalisation made global collaboration possible to create the GALAXY® Connected Emergency Lighting System. Can you explain how that worked?
A. Emergency lighting in New Zealand and Australia is quite different to other parts of the world. We brought our understanding of the local market and collaborated with a Legrand Engineering team based in Limoges, France.
We leveraged off their extensive global knowledge of IT security and the technologies they brought to the table, to create a product that worked for us in our local market. We utilized their skills in the back end, the IT aspect of the product; the web server, the security, the communication systems.
It was definitely a really successful collaboration. The Legrand Group is now looking at the feasibility of taking GALAXY® to international markets – that’s really exciting.
Q. What trends are you’re seeing internationally in product development?
A. Globally, we’re seeing the rapid evolution of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to create fully intelligent buildings and homes.
We’re going from being able to automate and program our home, to homes and buildings being truly ‘aware’. Turning a smart home, into an intelligent home.
Your home will become like your personal butler; it will know exactly what you want, and when you want it. It’ll know which family member has walked into a room, how they like the blinds pulled, what music they want to listen to and how warm or cool they prefer the temperature.
This level of innovation will revolutionize the smart home space.
Q. How do you measure success from an R&D perspective?
A. To me, Science is about finding answers and discovering new things, whereas Engineering is applying the right amount of effort to get the right outcome.
So successful R&D is using the appropriate amount of time, at the best cost to deliver the right functionality to meet the needs and expectations of the market and the business.
If we’ve done that, we’ve been successful.