3M Canada research and development director Randy Frank discusses the company's printed electronics-related efforts at the 2017 Canadian Printable, Flexible, Flexible, Wearable Electronics Symposium (CPES2017) on May 25.

Published: May 25th, 2017

TORONTO – By Randy Frank’s own admission, Minnesota-based 3M Co. is best known as the company behind Scotch tape and Post-It notes.

But as Frank, the executive director of research and development with 3M Canada’s quality and regulatory affairs division, joked during a Thursday appearance at the Canadian Printable Electronics Industry Association (CPEIA)’s 2017 Canadian Printable, Flexible, Flexible, Wearable Electronics Symposium (CPES2017), you’re never more than 10 feet away from one of the company’s products – especially if you own a smartphone.

That’s because 3M-developed adhesive, sealing, and water-resistant technology is incorporated into many mobile devices on the market today, Frank told ITBusiness.ca – and that’s only one example of several among the company’s impressively long list of technology-related projects, patents, and products.

“From a technology point of view we’re a material science company in many ways,” Frank said. “We develop things like new conductive inks, new substrate materials, and even assembly solutions for products that might use flexible electronics.”

In addition to existing products, 3M’s research and development teams frequently investigate ways to connect the company’s expertise to new industries, such as a swab device used in food preparation and manufacturing to measure the cleanliness of countertops or processing equipment that incorporates flexible electronics..

Another industry supported by 3M’s efforts, and one especially important to its Canadian division, is healthcare, with the company running a dedicated laboratory in Montreal that conducts development-related work for healthcare, in addition to manufacturing skin antiseptic products that are used in hospitals before surgeries.

“Many of our products are specifically designed for Canadian customers, who represent our best market for that sector today,” Frank said. “Generally our approach is to target the Canadian market first and build products that solve their customers’ problems, then look at where we can expand those products’ sales.”

In fact, he noted, 3M Canada is one of the former Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company’s oldest subsidiaries and, with around 2,000 employees across the country, including 150 in research and development, one of its larger ones outside the U.S.

“The connectivity with our U.S. mothership is important, but it’s an important subsidiary to 3M as a whole,” he said. “And it’s a market that is different from the U.S., which not everybody recognizes.”

In particular, Frank said, Canada’s healthcare and manufacturing sectors are markedly different from the U.S. – hence 3M Canada’s focus on both, and the company’s recent decision to join CPEIA.

“We’re always looking to the future,” he said. “Five years from now I see us where we are today – a diverse, science-oriented company that is always looking to grow – but we have to be in front of trends like flexible electronics to be able to do that.”

Full disclosure: ITBusiness.ca parent company ITWC is a media sponsor of CPES2017.

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