Q&A with Sean Appleton, General Sales & Marketing Manager, 3M

In the latest in our series of interviews with members of our Advisory Board speaker panel, we talk to Sean Appleton, General Sales & Marketing Manager, 3M.

1. Your passion is innovation, what do you think has been the greatest innovation in the Advanced Materials industry recently?

I am particularly impressed by the pace of development in advanced materials for additive manufacturing. We are now seeing a much broader range of materials which will greatly increase commercial applications for this technology and help advance it to the next level.

Graphene continues to show great promise despite not yet gaining significant commercial traction. I think we will see more mainstream application for this material as availability increases and cost reduces.   

2. On which applications do you see Advanced Materials having the biggest impact in the next three years?

Outside of additive manufacturing, there is also huge investment globally in material lightweighting technology, particularly within transportation for fuel efficiency and CO2 reduction. 3M has a broad portfolio in this area and has also been investing heavily in developing new technologies to support this megatrend.

In addition, in order to support the continued advancement of electric vehicles, a technology step change will be required in existing battery technology, which I believe will be partly driven through research and development of Advanced Materials.

3. 3M has an extensive portfolio of Advanced Materials. What’s coming next for you? 

Our teams continue to push the boundaries of our existing technologies, as well as maintaining a focus on developing new, disruptive materials. We are fortunate that successive 3M CEOs have prioritised investment in innovation, and we are seeing the fruits from that continued investment.  

2019 will see the launch of 3M Glass Bubbles S32HS, our most advanced glass microsphere to date, as well as a higher strength grade of our 3M Nextel Ceramic Fibre.

We continue to develop our range of high-performance technical ceramics along with a recent addition to our portfolio, Boron Nitride Cooling Fillers – an extremely versatile material for lightweighting, electrical insulation and thermal management.

4. Your career has moved from marketing into a key leadership role, what would you say your main priorities are as the General Manager of the Advanced Materials division at 3M?

My team and I are fortunate to work with some of the world’s leading energy, automotive, aerospace, engineering and technology companies. 

My first priority is leveraging our range of innovative materials and technical support to help our customers to develop their own cutting edge, disruptive technologies, providing them with a strong competitive advantage within their market sectors.

Increasingly, these new technologies are helping provide environmentally sustainable solutions, whether that be through lightweighting materials or increasing production efficiencies.

Given the broad range of technologies 3M has at its disposal, I believe we have a responsibility to help drive these sustainable solutions to help provide long-term, positive benefit for society and our environment.

We are working with customers to fulfil our company vision of ‘3M Technology Advancing Every Company, 3M Products Enhancing Every Home, 3M Innovation Improving Every Life.’

5. You will be presenting at The Advanced Materials Show on a session focused on innovation in lightweighting within the Composites and Polymer track – what work are 3M currently doing regarding lightweighting of materials? 

Composites are a really exciting area for us and I am delighted to have the opportunity to speak at the show. It’s great to see the UK manufacturing industry at the forefront of developing these novel materials.

New materials bring different types of design considerations for engineers. For example, joining composite materials can present challenges, as can galvanic corrosion and thermal management.

I don’t want to give too much of my presentation away, but we have a wealth of experience in developing these applications and are currently working to help develop solutions from deep subsea deployments, to outer space applications, and lots more in between!

6. 3M has formalised its commitment to a sustainable future, with 100% of products being sustainably built. How is this affecting the Advanced Material development within 3M and what do you think it will take for other companies to follow 3M in this commitment? 

Yes, from 2019 every new product is required to have a Sustainability Value Commitment that demonstrates how it drives impact for the greater good. Given that 3M launches more than 1,000 new products each year, this represents a significant commitment from the company and is a positive statement of intent.

Some examples of a Sustainability Value Commitment in new 3M products include recyclability, energy and water savings, responsible sourcing, renewable materials, and/or reuse appropriate for the specific product.

We’ve already made significant progress towards achieving our 2025 Sustainability goals, which were set out in 2015, and this new initiative will help drive even greater focus and effort towards achieving these goals

In addition, these programmes create even more opportunities for us to collaborate with our customers on sustainable solutions and to help them also achieve their own sustainability goals. 

7. What are you most looking forward to at The Advanced Materials Show?

Many of our customers will be attending, exhibiting and presenting at the event and it is always good to catch up with them and find out how their current projects are progressing, as well as any new developments. The industry is certainly an early adopter new technologies and applications, so projects never stand still for long! 

I am also looking forward to catching up with some my European and global 3M colleagues will also attend the show and learning from their experiences in other regions.