1. 3M scientist Ben Watson was born to be an inventor
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    3M scientist Ben Watson was born to be an inventor

    March 10, 2016
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    3M scientist Ben Watson was born to be an inventor

    As a child, 3M innovation leader Ben Watson was always creating something to help out around the home, but these inventions sometimes landed him in hot water with the emergency services.

    3M scientist Ben Watson was born to be an inventor

    As a child, 3M innovation leader Ben Watson was always creating something to help out around the home, but these inventions sometimes landed him in hot water with the emergency services.

    3M scientist Ben Watson was born to be an inventor

    As a child, 3M innovation leader Ben Watson was always creating something to help out around the home, but these inventions sometimes landed him in hot water with the emergency services.

    • Ben Watson

      Ben set fire to a tablecloth when he created a homemade heater that sent out sparks and his keen interest in magnets accidently set off a panic button in a shop, resulting in a visit from the police to investigate.

      Said Ben: "I was always making different types of security systems with my 100 in 1 Electronics Project Kit, complete with trip wires, sensors and sirens, and connected these to oranges and trash cans that would fly out of trees on strings. Fortunately my parents encouraged this creative streak and I knew from an early age that all I wanted to do was invent and solve real life problems."

      Ben leads Innovation and Research and Development for 3M's Global Centre of Excellence for Intelligent Transport, creating integrated software and electronic solutions for applications such as security, access control to critical infrastructure and road user charging systems for toll roads. He has filed 19 invention submissions in the past 18 months alone.

      As an award winning Chartered Product Designer, a Chartered Engineer and Chartered Environmentalist for Sustainable Product Design, Ben is the first to achieve the triple crown of Charterships from the Institute of Engineering Designers. This was recognised at a special event held at St James's Palace hosted by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

      In his 20 years working in the industry, Ben has designed a wide range of products from picture hooks to underground computers and explosion-proof cameras. However, his first commercialised design came at the age of just 14. He was on a work experience placement with a transportation company when he designed a new ignition switch mount for forklift trucks that was adopted across the industry.

      Ben holds a Master's Degree in engineering product design and a PhD in design strategy and innovation from Loughborough University. His doctoral research focused on applied systems thinking within the context of design ethnography and front end innovation.

      He said: "In my final year at university I designed a hand-held computer for electronic vehicle identification and for my Master's thesis studied explosion proof, intrinsically safe technology. Another highlight was working on a group competition project to redesign the VW campervan. Our design won and was presented at the NEC motor show."

      Added Ben, who funded his education by running several martial arts clubs to supplement his scholarship grant: "I was always very focused on engineering subjects at school and when I left combined working for an opto-electronics company as a junior engineer with studying part-time for an HNC in mechanical engineering."

      Ben joined 3M in 2012 when the company acquired Federal Signal Technologies Group (FSTech) – a provider of electronic tolling; vehicle identification and classification; and toll management software solutions. He was no stranger to takeovers and had been through five acquisitions before, working for both start-up entrepreneurial businesses and large corporations.

      He said: "3M is the school I should have gone to as it values creativity and diversity and embraces alternative ways of thinking. This combined with an unrivalled culture of collaboration and supportive colleagues makes it the perfect home for inventors and innovators. When I first joined the company I was told that you're always allowed to do the right thing at 3M. This is something I think about every week as these values are really important to me."

      Ben says that to develop new product solutions, it's vital to have a deep understanding of the market, global trends and emerging technologies, but most importantly to really understand the customer's pain point and take a human approach to design. He said: "I believe firmly in the importance of human centred design, inclusive and collaborative innovation that comes not only from the technology, but how we interpret, frame and reframe the challenges we face."

      In fact, Ben is never happier than when he is told something isn't possible. He said: "I get highly focused and love nothing better that overcoming complex sociotechnical challenges, never losing sight of the impact it will have on the end user."

      Ben's son, eight-year-old Xander, and daughter Esmé are following closely in their father's footsteps and love to work on new inventions. Said Ben: "My wife and I encourage them to follow their dreams. I'm very fortunate to have always known what I wanted to do and to be able to use my passion for invention in a meaningful way."

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