Innovating the Future: MAPNA Group's Quest for Knowledge and Innovation
Exploring MAPNA Group's Pioneering Strategies in Research & Innovation
How MAPNA Group evolved into a collection of research-oriented innovative businesses
“MAPNA is always one step ahead of the industry in Iran,” said one of the senior managers of MAPNA Group in an interview for MAPNA’s internal magazine. This statement reflects the grand vision that fuels MAPNA’s organization. A vision that puts research and innovation above everything else.
Research and innovation have been one of the key factors that enabled MAPNA to thrive as a dynamic and growing organization in the face of the challenges and changes in the industry and business in recent years. Thanks to this factor, MAPNA has earned a reputation as a research-oriented and innovative company.
Innovation and knowledge management in MAPNA Group
Organizational environments are characterized by three main features: ambiguity, complexity and fast-paced changes. Therefore, the knowledge that helps organizations cope with this ambiguity and complexity and adapt to the changing environment is the key to their competitive advantage.
But how does the organization acquire this knowledge and how can it avoid the risk of becoming stagnant and bureaucratic? This is a major challenge for a large organization like MAPNA, which could easily succumb to such a situation if not careful.
The first step towards overcoming this challenge was to establish a research and development (R&D) unit, which was able to set the direction and vision for the group in terms of innovation and research. Furthermore, MAPNA made a timely decision to embark on this process, less than ten years after its inception. This timing was appropriate considering the scope of the group’s activities.
The 2000s and the start of R&D in MAPNA Group
The 2000s was a decade of growth and innovation for MAPNA Group because in the first half of the decade, from 2002 to 2006, the comprehensive program of transferring and acquiring the knowledge and technology needed to build the main equipment of a power plant in the country, which had begun a few years earlier, was completed; this made Iran self-sufficient in the power industry. At that time, despite the increasing demand for the strategic energy of electricity, the industry remained resilient and unaffected by the difficult and international circumstances, thanks to the capacities and actions that had been created. With this success, a new opportunity emerged for MAPNA Group, this time to act as a designer of power plant equipment. Accordingly, the establishment of the research and development unit was put top on the agenda of the conglomerate with the aim of gaining scientific and technological capabilities for developing new products and improving existing ones.
In 2007, MAPNA Group established the research and development unit to align with the company’s structural change and the growth of the conglomerate’s activities in the fields of electricity, oil and gas and rail transportation. The unit was founded with an emphasis on the need for research and development to optimize performance and enhance services for future projects.
This unit’s mission is to create a suitable platform for defining, planning, coordinating, executing and monitoring research activities to provide a scientific solution to the MAPNA Group’s problems in various fields. This unit is responsible for policy making and guiding the necessary activities to develop and improve technology and strengthen the knowledge base at the group level. It also tries to contribute to the organization’s dynamism by creating a suitable nucleus and using expert human resources and modern scientific findings, cooperating with domestic and foreign academic and research centers, and using the knowledge available in all units with knowledge management approaches.
MAPNA Group gained the ability to collect and analyze customer feedback and to offer suitable solutions to their problems by the late 2000s. The main goals of the research and development projects were to reduce operation and maintenance costs, construction costs, and pollution levels. The research and development units also focused on meeting the market demands, such as increasing efficiency, production capacity, designing and building various systems for water and electricity co-production, and developing products.
MAPNA Group produces and enriches valuable organizational knowledge and information through its research and development strategy (policy-making and manageming plans and projects). This knowledge is shared and used across different levels and steps of the organizational process and interactions. This is a vital part of MAPNA’s strategic knowledge and a specific procedure to manage and protect it is needed. Therefore, knowledge management was one of the main goals of this field since the start of research and development in MAPNA. Several strategic, structural, and systematic measures have been adopted by the conglomerate in this area. MAPNA Group uses a globally recognized methodology called knowledge asset management to manage its knowledge. It has also built a suitable structure, role, process and system infrastructure for this at different organizational levels.
What is the knowledge management that MAPNA Group uses to foster innovation and research and how it has been applied?
Managers often deal with a lot of detailed and complicated data about costumers, operations, and employees. However, it is not easy to turn this data into valuable insights. The key is to use the appropriate experts and tools to analyze this large amount of data. This way, we can gain powerful information for strategic decision-making.
If companies focus too much on big data, they might neglect more important issues including, managing all their strategic and valuable knowledge, as well as major actions, areas of expertise, intellectual property, and vast pools of talent. Big data is useless without a clear understanding of the knowledge that drives organizational success. However, few companies think clearly about what knowledge they have, what parts of it are critical for future success, how to manage their important intellectual property, and what parts of knowledge can be integrated.
To achieve the strategic goal of improving and developing products based on customer feedback, MAPNA Group created the first version of the product roadmap in early 2010. The conglomerate leveraged all its resources and capabilities to accomplish this goal in a short time and carried out and finished many product improvement projects between 2008 and 2010.
MAPNA’s product roadmap was updated in 2011 to diversify the group’s product portfolio. The main change from the previous version was the addition of more products. The latest version of the roadmap of products and services, compiled in 2022, categorized products and services into two levels: “super products” and “components of super products and independent products”. Each product had a separate section for technical, market and customer information as well as a product development project. Some of the key outcomes of the latest version of the document were: resolving inconsistencies in the product list of different companies, merging the roadmap of companies and factories, collaborating with experts on the product and service development strategy in departments and companies, establishing a common language and methodology for creating and updating the product and service roadmap at the group level, and collecting lessons learned.
To achieve the goals related to diversifying MAPNA Group’s product portfolio, the group needed to acquire technical knowledge of design and production technologies. For instance, increasing the efficiency of gas turbines required increasing the inlet temperature to the turbine, which demanded upgrading the level of cooling, casting, coating technologies and, most importantly, the technical knowledge related to the three-dimensional design of the blade and combustion. Although it seemed that the sanctions were the main obstacle in obtaining new technologies, MAPNA realized that the desired technology packages were not available in the international markets even if the sanctions barriers were removed; Because MAPNA had narrowed the gap with the owners of new technologies so much that these companies viewed the knowledge transfer as a threat to their share in the international market.
This was where developing the ability to produce technologies needed for product development emerged as a vital business requirement. Major technology development projects such as directional solidification plan, single crystal solidification plan, creation of aging laboratory, compilation of technical knowledge for designing and estimating the life of thermal barrier coatings, fuel and combustion laboratory, CFD laboratory, compilation of technical knowledge for designing and manufacturing locomotive bogie frame and cradle with welding method, etc. as well as significant product development projects such as upgrading MAP2+ gas turbine to MAP2B, developing upgraded generator suitable for MAP2B turbine, development of 40 MW turbine, design and construction of mobile power plants, design and construction of MGT75 class F turbine and generators and related boilers, development of generators in different capacities of 8, 16 and 45 MW, development of various types of power plant bus ducts, development of water tube boilers with a capacity of 50 to 200 tons per hour of steam, the bogies of all types of locomotives, development of 45T tunnel locomotives and all types of freight and passenger locomotives, and projects in the electric field. Digital transformation including electrification of cars, design and construction of electric car charging stations, use of digital twins and virtual reality technology in the industry, etc. were on MAPNA’s agenda. By carrying out projects and plans for improvement and product development and technology development, MAPNA reached the stage of technology improvement and its monitoring; A stage that provided important capabilities such as the ability to improve products, skills and processes necessary to increase productivity and competitiveness based on indigenous research and development and interaction with other enterprises and research institutions and reputable universities.
Inventions: A symbol of innovation
Intellectual property and its management have been important topics since the early stages of research and development. Various actions have been taken to address these topics over the years. These include offering training courses, establishing laws and guidelines for protecting and enforcing intellectual property rights, and providing incentives for patent applications. As a result, patent filings by MAPNA Group have increased steadily in these years.
In addition, over 40 domestic patents have been filed, with 26 of them already granted. Moreover, two foreign inventions and two cases with approval for filing in foreign offices (including the US Patent Office, which is one of the most reputable patent offices in the world) are some of the other outcomes of the intellectual property ownership process.
It is also worth mentioning that patent filing has become a fully indigenous skill in research and development in recent years; accordingly, all domestic filing work and some of the foreign cases in countries where there are no barriers such as sanctions (especially considering that registration in a foreign country would usually entail considerable expenses for the company) are now done by relying on capabilities of the conglomerate’s experts.
Creating a bridge between industry and university
Since 2020, internship plans and opportunity projects have been prepared and implemented to leverage the power and capacity of the country’s top universities. MAPNA Group has made a positive and progressive step in recent years by using the internship projects to retain postgraduate students in the country, acquaint them with the industrial, work, and research and development environments.
The plan also addresses the group’s research challenges and advances the various projects of the subsidiary companies with young and skilled staff. Often, the internship plan is a gateway to hiring with a satisfactory process for subsidiary companies. Opportunity projects have also created a fruitful situation for research and development by involving renowned and top professors of universities in the country. In the years 2020, 2021 and 2022, the Department of Research and Technology has benefited from the presence of 43 students and professors by signing 23 contracts, and in 2023, with the enthusiasm of MAPNA Group companies and the best students of the country’s universities, 53 students are currently working in different companies. We hope that these projects will help create a link between the university and industry in the future, enhance the organizational vision of MAPNA Group and improve research and development as much as possible.
MAPNA Group has established various support routines for activities that lead to knowledge production in order to support and enhance knowledge and research activities. Examples of these facilities are supporting the publication of papers by the conglomerate’s employees in reputable domestic and foreign conferences, supporting the publication of books authored/translated by the group’s employees, and incentive mechanisms for the research and knowledge activities of the employees. These facilities are designed and implemented to foster a culture of research and knowledge production in MAPNA Group.