S/lash: A unique solution using the principles of photoelasticity to determine the tension in the lashing straps at all times, but not just that!
What is your professional background? Do you think you were meant for intrapreneurship?
I arrived at Naval Group in 2016, after a dissertation in photomechanics (everything that is optical measurement applied to mechanics) and research work at the CNRS.
I think my background is related to intrapreneurship. Indeed, within the CNRS, I had an annual publication duty. When I left for the private sector, I did not return to this obligation. However, as format requires, I got it into my head to file two to three patents per year instead of scientific publications. S/lash was born in this way.
At Naval group, I wear several hats. I am in charge of installation in the “tactical weapon” section, but also the calculation benchmarks, and I actively participate in the implementation of new working methods in my department. If I add intrapreneurship, with the S/lash project, that makes for very busy days and rather diverse tasks. I really enjoy what I do!
To get back to intrapreneurship, although there are connections with my profile, the S/lash project was initially a simple patent filed in order to respond to a technical solution. I was quite far from telling myself that we could go further: Testing the need and the market, or even opening new doors for Naval Group. I was even further from telling myself that my project was going to be chosen to enter the NIH. So I was therefore still rather far from intrapreneurship, in the end.
How did the big leap towards intrapreneurship go? Did you receive specific support?
The story of S/lash is the confluence between my desire to publish patents, an idea that responds to a simple technical problem but opens up broader perspectives, and the Naval Group intrapreneurship program that had just been started. At Naval Group, intrapreneurship is a relatively new concept, which dates back to 2019. At the time when I filed the S/lash patent, Fabrice Poussière and his team were in the process of setting up the Naval Innovation Hub, and their objective was to work on breakthrough innovation.
We met while he was touring the sites to prospect for new ideas and convince people of the potential of intrapreneurship. This was how I ended up setting sail in the adventure and how I brought Johan with me. My idea was appealing basically for its concrete aspect, the solving of workplace health and safety issues and because of its potential for opening up to the freight market.
Could you talk to us about S/lash specifically?
The solution makes it possible to respond to a security problem visible to everyone. If we focus on the field of transport (of all types of goods, whether military equipment or everyday consumer goods, etc.), we observe recurring lashing/tie-down problems, which lead to serious accidents, damage to equipment, financial losses, etc. In France, more than 600 fatal accidents per year are linked to this problem of poor lashing on road freight transport alone…
Let’s take freight, for example. The carrier currently has no information or simple procedure to help secure a package; there are no instructions. Everyone uses straps because it is convenient and inexpensive but no one knows the standards related to lashing that exist to prevent accidents.
In our defense equipment sector, the example is even more telling. A defense vessel has torpedoes on board, and these weapons are secured by straps. I’ll leave it to the reader to imagine what the consequences might be with poorly secured torpedoes.
S/lash, is the development of a simple visual indicator that may be inserted on the straps making it possible to know whether the tensioning is good or not. Adaptable to all types of straps, It comes in the form of an optical coating using the principles of photoelasticity to know the tension at all times. If the indicator is green, then it is properly secured, and if it is red, then be careful: there is a danger that the package may crush or slip.
S/lash assume the role of tensiometers. Tensiometers certainly make it possible to measure the tension in the straps very precisely, but these solutions are not practical, are expensive, do not remain attached to the strap in transit, and are not sturdy. Quite the opposite with S/lash!
In addition, at S/lash, we have implemented a very easy-to-use mobile app to help the loadmasters make the right choices to secure their loads and apply the standards without headaches. Indeed, the standards are not appealing and are complex. S/lash is there to help you to ensure your safety!
Beyond being a springboard, how did the “intrapreneurship” program help you in the development of the project?
First of all, going through the intrapreneurship program was a way of going much faster than what we usually do to develop and bring a project to fruition. The program gives sustained rhythm, momentum to the management of the project.
Then, we thought that we could test a new market for Naval Group: Freight. For that, we needed real support, a methodology, etc. In this respect, the program was crucial.
Participating in the program and becoming an intrapreneur means being able to wear several hats in the same day, sometimes several at the same time. You are a technician, researcher, marketing specialist, buyer, etc. at the same time. We have a much better understanding of the work and the problems of our colleagues from the other departments. You get the big picture and thus acquire great versatility. In a relatively short time (9 months at Naval Group), we learn a lot, we challenge ourselves, and we grow a lot.
Since 2019 and from the time we launched the project and joined the program, I have had to start hiring, the S/lash team has evolved, and currently there are three of us with Thibault, who is our new strike force. Who wants to join us in the adventure? (Laughter). We are always in need of new skills, especially in business and marketing field today.
In terms of timing, we are going to finish the acceleration phase at the beginning of May, and we are going to present the growth prospects. I will not deny that this period is exciting and stressful, because it is critical for convincing people internally and continuing our project on the go to market phase.
Have you had any specific difficulties? What were the main challenges?
I’m not going to be very original, but I must say that intrapreneurship is an daily challenge.
At Naval Group, we juggle our intrapreneurial topics and our daily work; this takes a lot of time and organization. Today I am on vacation, but I am working on the project. Both because I want to and I need to, because we have a presentation to make at the Executive Committee next week. Similarly, for anything prototyping, we do it with our 3D printers in my garage, which has become a bit like the S/lash workshop with the electronic, mechanical, optical part, etc. It requires a significant commitment.
To get organized, we tried to create a one-week bootcamp phase at the beginning of the year. The objective was to focus on the project in “sprint” mode for a week. That was very difficult. The people who work with us on a daily basis do not understand that we are less present. Everything does not revolve around the intrapreneurial project. To be a good intrapreneur, you have to know how to be a good juggler.
In addition, my natural shyness was another challenge. Getting in touch with customers and operators was really not natural to me. However, collecting opinions and facing customers is essential, and in this respect, intrapreneurship has also taught me a lot.
Where is S/lash today? Did you have any specific difficulties in this 2020 year?
For S/lash, the year 2020 was intense in emotions, as I think with any intrapreneurial project. But I am still coming out of it with a lot of pride. If I had been told 2 years ago that I was going to present a project in front of the Executive Committee, I would have said that that was impossible, but today I am in charge of a team, I became an intrapreneur, and that makes me want to invest myself even more in helping future developments of intrapreneurs and sharing this very rich experience.
Initially, at Naval Group, the two “Incubation” and “Acceleration” modules last 3 + 6 = 9 months. It’s quite short, and intense. For S/lash, we envision a go to market at 18 months. Today, it takes about 6 months for S/lash to reach the market (to have industrializable products consistent with the finances and the strategy).
Ultimately, we want to create a new entity. First, this entity would make it possible to structure the group’s intrapreneurial approach a little more. It would be dedicated to Naval Group intrapreneurs. We are pioneers somewhat with S/lash, and we want to help and share our best practices, our experience and our network from now on. Personally, I would like to get involved in supporting future Naval Group intrapreneur developments. Why not even become a serial intrapreneur? I am committed to disseminating intrapreneurship, these working methods and the culture of innovation continuously within the Group.
Do you have any advice for people who are still hesitant about getting into intrapreneurship?
Boldness, always boldness, with a dose of self-confidence, curiosity and optimism. There are always solutions to problems.
Internally, we were nicknamed the surfers. Indeed, we had presented S/lash during the selection phases without taking ourselves too seriously (laughs). The important thing was ultimately to communicate enthusiasm, optimism, to show that we believed in our project and that the idea was innovative.