More than just Post-its – Behind the scenes at 3M

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3M in Bracknell is home to more than some very useful stationery products.

The international company has its UK and Ireland headquarters at the 3M Centre in Cain Road, which recently changed landlords to the tune of £77 million.

The company moved to its new home 12 years ago and last year saw the demolition of its old residence, Winchester House, in Bracknell’s town centre.

John Klee, the company’s corporate communications manager showed getreading around the 3M Centre.

The glass fronted offices house work space and a canteen, but also secret, no cameras allowed, research areas and the art gallery-esque Customer Innovation Centre.

Mr Klee explained: “At any one time we have about 55,000 products, and around one third of our sales come from products that didn’t exist five years ago.”

3M’s Customer Innovation Centre

“We have been market leaders in markets which don’t exist any more, like VHS tapes.”

Mr Klee said he expected that everyone in Bracknell had something on them made by 3M everyday.

Smartphones, for example, contain an undisclosable amount of 3M products.

Best known for its Post-it Notes, Mr Klee was keen to show 3M is about much more than stationery.

Post-it Notes in the 3M Customer Innovation Centre

3M was founded in Minnesota in 1902 and was originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, hence the three Ms.

The founders of the company acquired a mine in Minnesota hoping to find their fortune, instead they found a worthless mineral.

However, they turned their situation around and began to make sandpaper, 3M’s first product.

This is turn led to their second product, masking tape, which is essentially sandpaper without the rough surface.

The Innovation Centre included examples of the company’s 55,000 products including seeming impossibilities like floating concrete, minuscule glass bubbles which behave like water and dry fluids.

3M’s floating concrete
(Image: Peter Bloodworth)

Mr Klee said: “Staff can spend 15 per cent [of their time] working on products the company hasn’t sponsored.”

This, permitted bootlegging, aims to engender creativity and innovation in the company’s staff.

Mr Klee said: “The biggest killer of innovation is your boss.”

It was this 15 per cent time which enabled the creation of Post-it Notes by Dr Spence Silver in 1968, he created a reusable adhesive which he didn’t have a use for until his colleague Arthur Fry told him he would like to use it to anchor his book marks in his hymn book.

From there it took a few more years for Dr Silver to get 3M on side but, after the sticky notes popularity grew among 3M employees, they began seriously developing.

3M invites customers to come to them with problems for which they will try to find solutions, it also prides itself on creating solutions for problems people don’t know they have.

Behind the scenes at the 3M Centre, Bracknell

One example is its welding visor, the screen of which automatically darkens when exposed to the bright light of welding, preventing the need for welders to continually raise and lower their visors.

What seems like a minor inconvenience was actually causing whiplash for welders as they flicked visors up with a flick of their head.

Local schools can express an interest in visiting 3M’s Customer Innovation Centre.

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