Achieving innovation milestones in 2020 during an emergency

In a year turned upside down by the Covid-19 global pandemic, Prysmian Group succeeded in staying focused on its innovation agenda during 2020 even while top management’s main priority pivoted to protecting the health and safety of employees and guaranteeing business continuity.

Four of the group’s “Innovators in Chief” look back on high points of 2020

“If you ask me what was the most significant big-picture challenge in 2020, it was that we as a group continued to push our innovation agenda at a time when everyone’s main focus was trying to survive!” says Srinivas Siripurapu, Chief Innovation and R&D Officer.  “The thing I am most proud of is the effort our employees made to keep our global R&D facilities running all year with the highest focus on healthy and safety. Without research, new product launches grind to a halt.”

Srinivas Siripurapu

Chief Innovation and R&D Officer

Apart from the human suffering caused by the pandemic, 2020 may be remembered as a year of tremendous digital acceleration when everyday work schedules were replaced by remote working and new safety procedures. Innovation was key.  Companies that had already started on a digital transformation path, like Prysmian Group in 2017, were ready to cope with the disruptive shift to overnight smart working for white collar workers at Milan headquarters, says Stefano Brandinali, Chief Information and Digital Officer.

“When you have move to remote working overnight, people have to deal with this change in 24 hours. Our people were ready,” says Stefano. “We showed resilience, making clear that Business Continuity depends strongly on the Digitalization and we seized this opportunity to gain also competitive advantage with our customers. We are entering a new era, the era of a new Digital Humanism, human-centric (focus on the human being and not on the technology itself), where the culture of exploration will represent a true differentiator”

Stefano Brandinali

Chief Information and Digital Officer

The digital acceleration during the pandemic had a direct and beneficial impact on Digital Innovation Projects such as PG Connect (remote presence using augmented reality) and Predictive Quality (using Big Data to improve plant performance).

“I think that in 2020 we demonstrated as a company, not only as at Digital Innovation or R&D, that we are able to deliver digital solutions in our group with a direct impact on the business,” said Digital Strategy & Innovation Lab Director Carlotta Dainese. “We stopped talking about ‘nice to have’ technologies and we implemented concrete solutions to support business continuity, improve performance of our factories, and help customers with sustainability goals.”

Carlotta Dainese

Digital Strategy & Innovation Lab Director

Pandemic aside, Prysmian’s innovation strategy took a big step forward in 2020 because it adopted a portfolio approach with a Steering Committee coordinating projects being carried out by R&D, the Digital Innovation Lab, Prysmian Electronics, and external “innovation factory” Corporate Hangar (partly-owned by Prysmian).

In spite of the pandemic, Prysmian made progress in innovating in each of the three areas that are important for the company: the energy transition, digitalization, and sustainability.

Prysmian’s decade-long research effort to engineer more sustainable cable solutions for the energy transition came to fruition last year in two major milestones. The biggest is a massive 1.8B€ award for an underground interconnector known as the German energy corridors that will deliver electricity from windfarms in the North Sea to cities and factories hundreds of kilometers away in the south. The required underground lines for the three SuedLink, SuedOstLink and A-Nord projects will use new 525kV HVDC cables technology. The German Corridors project will see deployment of the Group’s innovative P-Laser 525 kV HVDC cable, the first 100% recyclable, eco-sustainable and high-performance cable technology

“This is a unique event,” says Luca De Rai, R&D Energy Director. “This is the very first HVDC cable with this level of voltage, a first land project with extruded cable, using a completely new and sustainable material to provide a solution that no one has yet matched. With PLaser we were unique in providing a recyclable product for such an important project.”

Luca De Rai

R&D Energy Director

Secondly, Prysmian set a new world record in December for both depth (over 900 meters) and length of undersea AC cable (174 kilometers) with the installation of a 150V three-core submarine cable with synthetic armor connecting the Greek island of Crete with the mainland. This is an import sustainability milestone because this cable’s synthetic armor makes it lighter and therefore more sustainable because its installation consumes less energy. The synthetic armor technology is planned for use in new installations at up to 3,000 meters.

In terms of digitalization, a highlight for 2020 was the world-first installation of the new Scirocco Extreme 180-micron optical fibre cable in Germany for Stadtwerke Landau a.d. Isar, allowing several households and companies in Landau to benefit from a FTTx and 5G network. Its small size enables project managers to lower the cost of installing new networks. Prysmian was the first in the space to launch 180-micron fiber in December 2019, 10 years after it launched the first 200-micron bend-insensitive optical fiber cable in 2009.

Another highlight last year was supporting Dutch operator KPN in a pilot project involving a fibre optic network containing 90% recycled plastic, and using 50% the amount of material, allowing for major savings in the use of raw materials and reduced spending.

<p style="text-align:justify;">&nbsp;</p> <p style="text-align:justify; line-height:28px;">Lastly, in the area of sustainability, Prysmian was recognized for the second year in a row by the Dow Jones Sustainability Index as an industry benchmark with a 100% score in innovation management.</p>

Looking ahead to 2021, innovation should become an even more integral part of Prysmian’s business strategy than ever, given the lessons learned from the pandemic in 2020. An increased commitment to new product development will see introduction of innovative solutions for interconnectors, offshore windfarms, electric mobility, energy management, hyperscale datacenters and 5G deployments. Digital innovation can play a meaningful part of the group’s medium-term strategy.