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Finding Commercially Attractive Applications for the Diaphragm System

Sommersemester 2010 

Executive Summary

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) was founded in 1954 and is one of the world’s largest research laboratories. The organization is dedicated to research in fundamental physics, with the Large Hadron collider (LHC) being the most
famous experiment at CERN.
The objective of this project was to find new application fields for the Diaphragm System, a fixation technology originally invented at CERN for the use within the LHc. Two student teams were assigned to systematically search for and evaluate potential applications for the Diaphragm System technology and to develop actionable commercialization strategies.

Initial Situation

The Diaphragm System is an invention allowing for precise mechanical fastening of non cylindrical bodies in a main body. It was developed at cERN by Albert Ijspeert to cope with the requirements of assembling cylindrical superconducting coils inside a cylindrical tube with high centering position and a strong holding force when building the LHC.
Besides using technology for its scientific experiments, CERN has the intention to transfer in-house knowledge to the general public to make its technology available for others; in the year 2000, CERN has introduced an active Technology Transfer policy, aiming to maximize the technological and knowledge return to CERN member states and to promote CERN’s image as a centre of excellence for technology development.
In order to make the Diaphragm System valuable for the general public, new application areas for this technology are needed, in particular attractive ways of implementing this new technology in existing markets.
Furthermore, Mr. Ijspeert (mandated by CERN) aims at finding alternative application
areas for the Diaphragm System that could be sub-licensed to companies. Moreover, Mr Ijspeert would be able to offer technological assistance during the development of specific applications receiving a consultation fee from the contracting licensee.

Project Target

The aim of the project was to find as many new and attractive application areas for the Diaphragm System as possible, to evaluate these opportunities and to develop a commercialization strategy for the most promising ones. Thereby, the potential application areas should not only offer solutions to specific problems in these areas, but also be in accordance with the strategic orientation and background of CERN as the project partner.

Procedure and Methodology

The project was based on a community-based search process for technological com-
petence leveraging. This process consists of four interrelated steps.

  • Identification of the benefits delivered by the technology

  • Systematic search for additional/diverse application areas via a combination of pyramiding and broadcast search

  • Analysis of the commercial potential of identified applications

  • Assembly of an actionable commercialization strategy for the most promising applications

Identification of User Benefits
The first step comprised the identification of the technology’s benefits from the current user’s point of view. consequently, the second step consisted of aggregating the mentioned benefits into three abstract core benefits by each team.

Systematic search for new fields of application
In order to search for the core benefits both teams conducted about 200
interviews. Furthermore, various posts were placed in forums in order to identify potential users who are able to profit from the sensor technology. The search was guided by the techniques of pyramiding and broadcasting.
The analysis of the interviews and posts in forums entitled both teams each to derive
three fields of application. 

Analysis of their Commercial Potential
In a next step the identified fields were evaluated by taking into account two factors, namely “Benefit Relevance” (Market Side) and “Strategic Fit” (company Side).
This resulted in a suggestion of the three most promising fields of application by each
team. Hence, the next step was to determine the commercial attractiveness via a diligent market analysis. This procedure included exploring the target market, its growth rate and other crucial details. In addition, a competitor analysis and a SWOT-analysis were carried out in order to lay the basis for the commercialization strategy. 

Deriving a Commercialization Strategy
Based on the information gathered in the third step, individual commercialization strategies for each application field were developed.

Results

By interviewing 20 current and potential users of the Diaphragm System, three main benefits (from a user’s perspective) of the technology were revealed: (1) very precise positioning at low costs, (2) quick assembly and disassembly, and (3) ability to adapt quickly to different symmetric objects. Based on these abstract ‘use benefits’, more than 60 potential fields of application were identified in the course of approx. 300 interviews. The suggestions ranged from fixation mechanisms in tripods and filter vessels to a use of the Diaphragm System in the fields of wire and plastic production. In accordance with the project partner, the six commercially and strategically most promising application fields were selected for further analysis: (1) prostheses, (2) rear-bicycle racks, (3) spindle bearing, (4) jaw chucks, (5) permanent magnet motors and (6) sensor fixation.
As a result of the detailed market-, competitor and SWOT analyses (carried out for each of the six application fields), one of the suggestions to CERN is to focus on the application field of prostheses. In 2009, the value of the European market for interlocking and fixation systems for artificial limbs was around € 39 million, growing with a compound annual growth rate of about 4%. The market is expected to carry its good performance into the next years, buoyed by the aging population in Europe and the increasing number of vascular diseases and diabetes, one of the major reasons for amputations. Besides these commercial considerations, employing the Diaphragm System in the health care sector is expected to meet cERN’s target to have a strong positive impact on society.
In order to enter the market for prostheses fixation systems, it is recommended to license the technology to one of the two biggest European prostheses manufacturers, Össur and Otto Bock. Especially the latter company seems to be an attractive potential licensee: possessing a market share of more than 50% and having the reputation of an innovation leader within the prostheses industry, Otto Bock would be an ideal partner for entering the market.
However, the other five application fields that have been analyzed in detail seem to be promising markets, too. Thus, CERN is advised to observe and approach them in the case of unsuccessful entry into the prostheses market.

Cooperation Partner

Student Team

  • Christoph Baumann
    Martin Dirnberger
    Tom Kilarski
    Lisa Kueffel
    Xenia Loeffelholz von Colberg
    Felix Neusser
    Stefanie Richter
    Miriam Söchstl
    Studierendenteam 2:
    Hannes Baumgartner
    Ulrich Baldauf 
    Doina Bors 
    Beate Horvath 
    Birgit Leopold 
    Rachel Mattes 
    Philipp Plieschnegger
    Thomas Rath
    Leona Tuzinska
    Miriam Weber