“Is it 100 now? I don’t really keep track,” he chuckles.
Anders Eriksson joined the Volvo Group in 1998. Apart from having created 100 patent applications since then, he has also won the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Volvo Group Inventor Awards.
While he appreciates the accolades, he maintains that they are not what drive him.
“If I can invent something that creates customer value and delivers an actual tangible improvement to the people who buy and drive our vehicles, that is the greatest reward for me,” he says.
“The reason patents are important to the Volvo Group is to prove that we were the first to develop something truly ground breaking. This, in turn, demonstrates that we’re at the cutting edge of technology, with the capacity to deliver value to our customers that nobody else can offer,” he continues.
Anders recalls that his passion for innovation began at a very early age, when he used to help out on the family farm.
“There was always a problem that needed fixing. Sometimes a machine would break down in the middle of the harvest and we simply had to resolve it quickly with whatever resources were available,” he explains. “The solutions weren’t always pretty or optimal, but we did what we could within the time and cost constraints we had.”
Anders believes this was when he started training his creative problem-solving skills – and when he began to understand the importance of customer value.
“In this case, my family was the customer and the customer value was finding a way to harvest the oats before the rain came,” he says.
Anders went on to study mechanical engineering at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg. During this time he was a member of the “experiment workshop”, where he and his friends invented a variety of weird and wonderful machines. Once he started at the Volvo Group, it did not take long for him to apply for his first patent.
“I joined the company in 1998, submitted my first patent application in 2000 and was awarded it in 2003,” he says.
Most of Anders’ patents have been linked to the highly praised automated gearbox AMT and a predictive cruise control system. Anders admits that his first patent, awarded for a model-based gear selection solution that formed part of the Volvo Group’s ground-breaking I-Shift transmission system, remains his favorite to date.
“It was a completely new technology for automated gear selection to optimize fuel economy, unlike anything that had been done before. Twenty years later, it still forms the basis for how our transmission systems work today,” he says.
These days, Anders is an active member of the newly formed “Inventors’ Club” at the Volvo Group. The members meet on a regular basis and work together to brainstorm ideas for new innovations.
“The only way to achieve major change and reap the really big rewards is to work with other people – ideally across various functions,” says Anders, adding that he encourages all future inventors at the Volvo Group not to keep their ideas secret and to be ready to ask their colleagues for help.
“What goes around comes around so, if you help a colleague today, he or she will help you tomorrow. Ultimately, our collective goal has to be to foster a supportive, innovative environment where we come up with more ideas together than we ever would have done alone,” he concludes.
3 tips from Anders Eriksson
· Don’t overwork things. Sometimes the simplest solutions add the most value
· Start with the problem you are solving for the customer, then develop the solution. There is no point developing complex technologies just for the sake of it, if there’s no real customer value
· Involve your colleagues in your innovation work and don’t be afraid to collaborate across functions. We will achieve more together than we can alone