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Heike Faulhammer, LafargeHolcim Group’s new head of R&D

First publishedin Aggregates Business Europe
September October 2017
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Heike Faulhammer

Heike Faulhammer was recently appointed LafargeHolcim Group’s new head of Research & Development. She joins from Arkema, one of France’s leading chemicals producers, where she spent 20 years in research, production, product innovation-related functions and sustainable development. Here, she speaks to Guy Woodford about the exciting possibilities within her coveted new role.

Heike Faulhammer provides a punchy summary when asked what the future holds for the global building materials sector.

“At LafargeHolcim, we believe the construction industry faces three big challenges: urbanisation, sustainability and construction efficiency. Successfully tackling these challenges is critical for all actors in the construction value chain. Working together we will find solutions to these big challenges. We have no choice. The future of our planet is at stake.”

As head of LafargeHolcim Research & Development (R&D), 50-year-old Faulhammer is based at the group’s state-of-the-art global research and development centre, near Lyon, France. With its 200 engineers and technicians of more than 20 nationalities, the facility creates innovative solutions to address the needs of the construction industry.

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Airium close up
Airium, a mineral insulating foam, is LafargeHolcim's new building materials solution

Faulhammer brings to her new senior post two decades of highly impressive work as director for Arkema’s global R&D centre in Lacq, South West France. She is a graduate of the University of Freiburg, in Germany, and holds a PhD in chemistry.

So, what attracted her to the role of LafargeHolcim Group head of R&D? “The construction industry is undergoing a profound transformation. Having the opportunity to contribute to driving this change by working for the industry leader presents a formidable opportunity for me,” says Faulhammer, a German national. ”LafargeHolcim is at the forefront of this development with the world’s leading R&D centre in our industry, that brings together a great team of scientists, engineers and commercial experts. Being part of this team and contributing together to tackle the challenges such as urbanisation and the need for better and more sustainable infrastructure and combine it with my passion for architecture and urban development is a once in the life opportunity.”

Faulhammer says her priority will be serving LafargeHolcim’s customers throughout the world, providing product solutions for “the most sophisticated architecture to simple low cost housing”. She continues: “Projects we are working on today include the new Mexico City airport, India’s longest railway tunnel, and our affordable Durabric cement-earth solutions.

“Sustainable development is an integral part of our work here and we will aim to help our markets reach LafargeHolcim’s goal of generating 30 per cent of our turnover with our 2030 Solutions – solutions with enhanced sustainability performance. Emphasising solutions and not only product innovation is key in the context of our commercial transformation process.”

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Airium Truck
A LafargeHolcim truck carrying Airium, the French-Swiss giant's latest product developed at the global R&D centre in Lyon, France

Faulhammer believes her vast experience at Arkema has well equipped her for her key role at LafargeHolcim. 
“There are three areas where I can build on my past experience to contribute to LafargeHolcim’s ambitions. Firstly, building great relationships with customers. At Arkema we did a successful job at repositioning the company as a modern player in innovative chemistry and a partner of choice for its customers. Secondly, my experience of driving sustainable development at Arkema. Now sustainable development is clearly recognised as a pillar in Arkema’s strategy and product portfolio management is reinforced. The third area is how we can manage and improve safety across our organisation in whatever area and including the interests of all stakeholders – from the safety of our products to the safety at our operations and on construction sites.”

Innovation, says Faulhammer, will play a key role in ensuring LafargeHolcim can meet the world’s growing need for affordable, durable and sustainable construction. “This is where our R&D centre comes into play. We have a number of innovative breakthrough construction solutions hitting the ground such as Solidia, a new binder that generates less CO2 or Aggneo, our range of high quality aggregates processed from recycled concrete. My goal is to both build on the success that the group had in the past but also look at how we can increase the contribution LafargeHolcim can bring to helping customers build better.”

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A LafargeHolcim employee at work
LafargeHolcim's global R&D centre in Lyon is complemented by its global network of Construction Development Labs (CDL). This LafargeHolcim employee is at work at the Group's Holly Hill facility in South Carolina, USA

Of her keenness to manage a commercially-minded and efficient R&D division within the LafageHolcim Group, Faulhammer says: “From a management point of view I will be focusing on further positioning R&D as a key value driver within the group and contribute to the teambuilding between manufacturing, commercial and marketing and R&D. This is a key factor to accelerate time to market and improve the impact of our investment in R&D. This includes increasing collaboration with our customers. I want to make sure what we do is well-oriented towards their needs and challenges.”

LafargeHolcim’s global R&D centre in Lyon is complemented by its global network of Construction Development Labs (CDL) and advanced technical centres. Composed of multi-disciplinary teams, CDLs aim to develop new business opportunities through a focus on regional product application and construction systems, which can instil in the international building materials heavyweight a better understanding of local customers and construction methods and conventions.

LafargeHolcim’s patent estate is steadily growing as a result of its R&D efforts, remaining the largest and most diversified in the industry. Patents range from cement manufacturing processes and construction solutions, to CO2 footprint solutions and efficient waste management. In 2016 a total of 22 new patent applications were filed and approximately 140 were granted. LafargeHolcim now owns approximately 270 active patent families, representing about 2,000 granted national patents or patent applications.

The most recent building materials solution launched onto the market after being developed and patented at LafargeHolcim’s global R&D centre is Airium – a mineral insulating foam.

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Lyon R&D LH2

“Airium addresses the energy efficiency challenges facing society today as well as the needs of construction professionals and homeowners,” says Faulhammer. “It is an exciting innovation that opens new markets for us and it has the potential to transform the way buildings are insulated, reducing energy use, improving fire resistance and cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And it is 100% recyclable. My focus is on bringing this solution to more markets.”

LafargeHolcim’s is creating a Start-Up Accelerator scheme to give young companies onsite accommodation and the use of the facilities at the global R&D Centre to develop, test, and market their solutions in construction and urban planning.

Speaking of the importance to the wider building materials and construction sector of the work being done at LafargeHolcim’s global R&D centre, Faulhammer adds: “Being the [building materials] industry leader means we have an opportunity and a responsibility to make a meaningful and positive contribution to a changing world. As a company, LafargeHolcim can only do this if we go beyond our own fence line. We want to contribute to advancing the way the world builds and we want to encourage others to walk with us. At the R&D centre we do research that adds value not only to us but also to customers, suppliers, architects, construction companies and local governments coming together to build better based on a solid collaboration.”

Faulhammer is a strong advocate for the scheme, due to be launched before the end of 2017. “With the Start-up Accelerator we have made a commitment to support young companies specialising in construction materials and construction solutions. In the spirit of open innovation, we can offer them a sophisticated laboratory environment and access to years of experience. In return, we believe that they – just as the well-established SMEs we are partnering with and in the universities where we have projects – will bring new ideas and new solutions that will change the face of construction in the coming years. We are committed to looking for new solutions for our customers so having the opportunity to bring new ideas together at the same site with our own R&D will be invaluable.”

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